The Studio Generale Pisano was established in 1343, with the papal bull In supremae dignitatis… In 1472 university education was encouraged, when Lorenzo the Magnificent promulgated an edict according to which the General Studies had to reside in Pisa, where he build the Palazzo de La Sapienza, seat of university studies, including the anatomical ones.
Precise data date back to 1544, when the anatomist Andreas Vesalius was invited by Cosimo I de’ Medici to hold dissections in Pisa. Other figures taught anatomy in Pisa, including Realdo Colombo, Gabriele Falloppio, Carlo Fracassati, Lorenzo Bellini, Paolo Mascagni, Filippo Civinini and Filippo Pacini.
This tradition brought prestige to the medical studies of the Pisan university, allowing an evolution of the anatomical discipline, and also favoured the birth of the anatomical museum. At the beginning of the 19th century Tommaso Biancini began the organization of the museum, then continued by Filippo Civinini, to whom the museum is named. In fact, Civinini enriched the museum in the Stabilimenti Anatomici of the Hospital of Santa Chiara, inaugurated on November 15, 1832.
The opportunity to introduce the museum to the scientific community arose in 1839, when Pisa was the seat of the Prima Riunione degli Scienziati Italiani. For that event, Civinini published the first history of the museum (Della Origine, Progressi e Stato del Museo d’Anatomia Fisiologica e Patologica Umano-Comparata dell’I. e R. Università di Pisa all’epoca del Primo Congresso degli Scienziati Italiani l’anno 1839) and the catalogue of the museum (Indice degli articoli del Museo d’Anatomia Fisiologica e Patologica Umano-Comparata dell’I. e R. Università di Pisa).
In 1874, with the construction of the Medical School, the museum moved to the new building, where it is still located today, in front of the Botanical Garden and a few meters from the famous leaning tower.
The museum is now part of the University Museum System of the University of Pisa and has the task of conserving, studying and restoring the collections to transmit a cultural heritage of great value to future generations. The research allows us to understand the history of the preparations and the techniques used to preserve them. The museum also has an important educational purpose to schools and visitors to disseminate knowledge.
The collections of the museum
The museum itinerary begins on the ground floor of the Medical School, where the Gallery of Busts is located, with plaster busts of ancient anatomists (Andreas Vesalius, Realdo Colombo, Lorenzo Bellini, Filippo Pacini, Bartolomeo Eustachio and Gaspare Aselli). On the first floor there is a marble bust of Civinini and an epigraph that recalls the history of the museum.
In this floor there is also the Mascagni’s Gallery, where the complete and original collection of the anatomical tables by Paolo Mascagni (1755-1815) is exhibited. The plates depict the human body in full size in addition to anatomical details. On the second floor there are the two rooms of the museum, named after Carlo Regnoli and Pietro Duranti.
The anatomical collections include various sections of specimens. The osteological collection preserves entire skeletons and individual bones, joint and ligament preparations. Of particular historical and cultural interest are the phrenological maps and the foetal and neonatal skeletons. The collection of angiology includes numerous cardiovascular preparations, such as anatomical statues, that is dried bodies with blood vessels injected with various materials.
Many other preparations are preserved in alcohol and represent the different organs of the human body. The museum also preserves many anatomical models made with various materials and used for teaching. A pathological skeleton is a plaster copy of a natural skeleton with acromegaly.
There are numerous plaster casts of brains or skulls. In wax are the anatomy models of the eye, larynx and ear. A general model of the human body of the Florentine school, in wax and life-size, represents a young man reproduced with extreme precision, making this preparation also a valuable work of art: the skull is open and the hard menynx is incised and partly removed to show the cerebral hemispheres; the thoracic cavity is also open and the heart is visible between the lungs; the anterior abdominal wall is widely open to show the main organs; arteries, veins and nerves are reproduced in their natural location.
Among the embryological preparations, several models in coloured wax, made in Germany by the firm Friedrich Ziegler of Freiburg between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, illustrate the most important phases of both human and animal development. In a box there is a magnified model of a human embryo made in 1900: the model can be studied in different section planes, thanks to the presence of a system of levers that allows the movement of its various parts. Some anatomical models of the head made in France by the Auzoux company in the second half of the 19th century are made of papier-mâché. The most interesting is a general model of the human body, with detachable organs.
Of great interest is the mummy of Gaetano Arrighi, dating back to the first half of the 19th century. Arrighi was convict in Livorno, where he died of a lung disease. His body was subjected to the embalming process according to the method of Giuseppe Tranchina, through the use of a mixture of arsenic and mercury.
The museum also possesses an archaeological collection, found in South America by the physician and anthropologist Carlo Regnoli (1838-1873). Extremely interesting is a set of 121 pre-Columbian vases dating back to the 12th-16th centuries, found in different sites on the Peruvian coast and attributable to different pre-Inca cultures, in particular Chimù and Chancay. Many of these vases were part of funerary objects, and present artistic forms, with anthropomorphic, zoomorphic or phytomorphic representations.
The collection also includes 36 glass ampoules in which fragments of vases, shells and plant remains are preserved. Inside some ampoules there is also a leaflet indicating the place, the date of discovery and a description of the contents. The findings date back to 1869 and come mainly from excavations carried out in caves and burial grounds in the Province of Cajamarca. Finally, the collection also includes skulls, funerary objects (tools, fabrics, other plant remains) and well-preserved mummies in a foetal position; one of the mummies also has an artificially deformed skull.
Another important collection comes from ancient Egypt and includes a well preserved mummy with original sarcophagus painted in bright colours. The mummy was recently subjected to a computed tomography examination which revealed the absence of organs within the thoracic and abdominal cavity. The dilated nostril is also very evident, confirming the extraction of the brain from the nose. The collection almost certainly comes from Ippolito Rosellini and Jean-François Champollion’s Franco-Tuscan expedition to Egypt in the early 19th century.