Self-made (pages 1314)

Although her skill in anatomical wax design was known in academic centers throughout Italy and Europe before her husband’s death, Morandi inspired greater interest after being widowed. As a woman alone dissecting cadavers and demonstrating her wax studies of anatomy to crowds in her home studio, her exceptional status rose by many degrees. Italian and European courts and academies also hoped that she might now be willing to leave Bologna. She received invitations from throughout Europe to relocate her practice and singular collection. It was precisely this outside notice and the potential risk of losing such a popular Grand Tour attraction that prompted Bologna’s cultural patriarchs to recognize her work formally with a small annual stipend and a university appointment in anatomical exposition. Pope Benedict intervened with the Senate in these matters in Morandi’s behalf, thereby keeping her home in Bologna.

Morandi was at this time also the unmistakable beneficiary of a distinctly liberal view of learned women in Bologna, a view cultivated by Prospero Lambertini during his term as archbishop and afterward as Benedict XIV from his papal throne in Rome. As Paula Findlen and Marta Cavazza have demonstrated, learned Bolognese women were vaunted emblems of the city’s cultural resurgence and celebrated proof of its incomparability as a nexus of Enlightenment progress and social and intellectual exchange (1). In ways reminiscent of his backing of Laura Bassi, the first woman to receive a degree from the University of Bologna, the pope defended the symbolic and material value to Bologna of being home to the Lady Anatomist.

Anatomy of the Forearm (page 56)

From Morandi’s notes and collection of wax figures, the testimony of visitors to the studio, and this list of her dissecting and modeling tools, it is thus possible to conjure an image of Anna Morandi and Giovanni Manzolini in their home studio, cowled against the seepage and stench of the human viscera arrayed on their wooden dissection table (marble would no doubt have proved too costly). We picture them cleaning and depilating the muscular male forearm just retrieved from the nearby hospital of the dead. This “fresh part” would have served as the archetype to inaugurate an extensive ten-figure series on the limb.

With no means to preserve cadavers, dissection of the forearm necessarily occurred during the colder seasons and even at the coldest nighttime hours. In the dim glow of torchlight and with a steady fire to warm their fingers and take the sharpest chill off long hours of concentrated cutting and probing, they would prepare this and the many other arms to be used in the sequence (2). The progressive dissection and representation of the layers and related structures of each limb or organ required the use of multiple body parts; other newly severed arms would thus be at the ready for dissection and casting.

Morandi and her husband demonstrated the fleshy, venous, and tendinous structures of the forearm by sculpting wax directly on actual bones. Indeed, the first figure was the only one of the series cast entirely in wax. In the ten-part display of the forearm, the couple therefore dissected at least nine arms and presumably many more to produce their various, ideal views of the anatomized appendage (figs. 27 and 28).

Teaching the “New” Anatomy (pages 66–67)

Despite the scarcity of concrete data about who trained with them, Morandi and Manzolini unquestionably taught an abundance of medical students as well as avid recreational anatomists. Because of their full access to cadavers and body parts and the vast number of dissections they performed, the couple could provide extensive practical training in human anatomy to students, who clearly would have been hard pressed to find similar instruction elsewhere.

Moreover, by the early 1750s, Morandi and Manzolini had already achieved local and international fame as anatomists and anatomical modelers and enjoyed frequent visits by Grand Tourists, many of whom commented on the pedagogical focus of their practice and the numerous students in their charge. It is reasonable to assume therefore that their studio would have enjoyed high standing among budding and established medical professionals, who would not only have received specialized instruction from two prominent experts in the field, but could potentially enhance their own status in the profession by association with the couple and their celebrated studio.

What most set the Morandi-Manzolini anatomical practice apart was, of course, their use of their expansive and unparalleled collection of wax models for teaching anatomy. According to their contemporary biographer, Luigi Crespi, Giovanni Manzolini specifically created his models for the benefit of “native and foreign youth” desirous of training in anatomical science (3). Medical students who frequented the studio enjoyed the unique advantage of studying the myriad parts and structures of the body during any season and at any time of day without the inconvenience of the cadaver’s putrefaction and without fear of contagion from these same moldering parts. In their illustration of an extra-experiential reality of the anatomized body devoid of the disorder and decay inherent in human dissection, the couple’s waxworks literally embodied new anatomical knowledge. They cleared away the messy obstacles to sight and understanding encountered in dismembering the dead and at the same time better elucidated the complexity of the human form. They were able to emphasize and isolate discrete structures, including very fragile and minute body parts that would have been lost or corrupted in an actual anatomical specimen. Their models more effectively reconciled theory and phenomenon by offering clearer and more comprehensive views of the anatomized body, more exacting analysis, and an exhibition of the body’s parts in some ways superior to an actual anatomical preparation. The models thus represented and obliged new standards for studying the anatomical body.

Excerpted with permission from The Lady Anatomist: The Life and Work of Anna Morandi Manzolini (University of Chicago Press, 2010) by Rebecca Messbarger.


1.  See especially Findlen, “Science as a Career in Enlightenment Italy,” 441–69; Findlen, “Translating the New Science,” 167–206; Marta Cavazza, “Laura Bassi,” Bologna Science Classics On-line: http://www. /bassi/bassinotbyed/bassinotbyed.pdf; and Cavazza, “Dottrici e lettrici dell’Università di Bologna nel Settecento,” Annali di storia delle università italiane I (1997): 109-26.

2.  For references to the necessities of fire and light for the home anatomy studio, see ASB, Assunteria di Studio, Diversorum, busta 91, “Relazione degli Assunti ed altra circa gli Anatomici gli’interesse egli […] dell’Anatomia,” May 1755.

3.  Crespi, Felsina pittrice, 307.