Saturday, March 16, 2013

From 18th Century Private Natural History Cabinet to Early Museum: The Spallanzani Museum, Reggio Emilia, Italy; Guest Post by Alessandro Molinengo, Nautilus Shop, Modena

Friend Alessandro Molinengo, co-proprietor of the Modena's amazing Nautilus Antiques, brought Evan Michelson and I one rainy night to visit to Spallanzani Museum in Reggio Emilia, Italy. The origins of this museum stem from a "small collection of natural products" opened by priest, biologist and physiologist Lazzaro Spallanzani in his home in 1770; today, the collection--some still in their original cases!--is located in the Civic Museum of Reggio Emilia.

I asked Alessandro to write a guest post telling the readers of Morbid Anatomy more about this astounding collection, which had Evan and I literally gasping aloud as we turned each corner; All images are my own; you can see many many more by clicking here or here:
Lazzaro Spallanzani (10 January 1729 – 12 February 1799) was an Italian Catholic priest, biologist and physiologist who made important contributions to the experimental study of bodily functions, animal reproduction, and essentially animal echolocation. His research of biogenesis paved the way for the investigations of Louis Pasteur. 
Since 1771 he had managed to create a Museum of Natural History in Pavia, which over the years acquired a great reputation, even internationally, and was even visited by the Emperor Joseph II of Austria. 
In 1785, while on a trip to Constantinople and the Balkans, he was accused by the custodian of the Museum of Pavia (instigated by some colleagues) of stealing artifacts from the museum: the story ended after one year with the demonstration of the complete innocence of Spallanzani and punishment of slanderers. 
His indefatigable exertions as a traveler, his skill and good fortune as a collector, his brilliance as a teacher and expositor, and his keenness as a conversationalist no doubt aided largely in accounting for Spallanzani's exceptional fame among his contemporaries; his letters account for his close relationships with many famed scholars and philosophers, like Buffon, Lavoisier, and Voltaire. 
His life was one of incessant eager questioning of nature on all sides, and his many and varied works all bear the stamp of a fresh and original genius, capable of stating and solving problems in all departments of science. 
He died from bladder cancer on 12 February 1799, in Pavia. After his death, his bladder was removed for study by his colleagues, after which it was placed on public display in a museum in Pavia, where it remains to this day. 
Since 1770, Lazzaro Spallanzani set up in the rooms of his home in Scandiano a "small collection of natural products,"which today is located in the Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia. 
It’s a rare and precious document in the history of collecting naturalistic ranked according to scientific knowledge at the end of the eighteenth century. It includes zoological, with particular reference to marine life, paleontological, mineralogical, lithological and botanical gardens, as well as decorative objects, such as pictures, tables and ornaments, testifying, in its diversity, the variety of interests of the scientist. The materials are the result of purchases, exchanges and collections made during the many trips Spallanzani during the summer months, to conduct scientific experiments, and to procure materials for the Museum of Natural History of the University of Pavia.
Purchased by the Municipality of Reggio Emilia in 1799, at the death of scientist, collection has been preserved in its original consistency, finding final location in the Palazzo of St. Francis from the 1830. The current layout of the exhibition is related to the reorganization of collections in 1883 by Alfredo Jona, displayed in several cabinets, some of which are original furnishings of the Spallanzani’s house, following the Linnaean system in use in the late eighteenth century.
You can find out more about the by the Spallanzani Museum of Reggio Emilia by clicking here. All images are my own (click on image to see larger versions); you can see many more by clicking here or here. You can find out more about the Nautilus Shop by clicking here, and can "like" the shop on Facebook by clicking here. The shop is open on Saturdays from 3 until 7 PM or by appointment, and is located at via Cesare Battisti 60 in Modena, Italy.

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