Do you want to see an unusual exhibition? Is looking at anatomical reconstructions of bodies, plague victims, and other unsavoury objects right up your street? Excellent. Then welcome to the La Specola in Florence, the Museum of Zoology and Natural History which comprises an educational but highly entertaining display of zoological and anatomical specimen reconstructions in wax.
La Specola palace, which lends its name from the tower-like astronomic observatory added to the building, comprises 34 separate rooms, some containing animal specimens and other peculiarities, and 10 devoted to human specimens. It is the oldest scientific museum in Europe and contains the largest and most well-known wax anatomical collection in the world. The most curious highlights of the visit are the almost complete works of Gaetano Zumbo, a famous 17th Century waxworker who, amongst other things, created a series of works entitled ´Cerre della Peste`, comprising three representations of bodies in the throes of the plague, in addition to a model of a decomposing head, created with wax superimposed on a real human skull, and a collection of miniatures portraying the various stages of the ravages of syphilis. This very interesting and unusual museum also houses some wonderful taxidermy, including some now extinct specimens.
The anatomical models were created between 1771 and 1850 in what is a clear example of the skill and scientific knowledge of 18th and 19th century anatomists, and over 1400 were created in total with the aim of allowing the teaching of the anatomy to medical students at the time without perilous and unpalatable direct contact with corpses. Although, the displays are made entirely of wax the moulds were created from actual corpses so there’s a shocking degree of realism to be seen. Thus, expect very detailed wax skeletons, exposed organs including brains, veins, eyes, muscle and tendons, hearts, a reconstruction of the plague, wax animal anatomies, deconstructed faces, and the phases of syphilis in all its wax and unsavoury glory.
This museum is open all year round, so those of you lucky enough to be in Florence should pay a visit to what promises to be a fascinating if not entertaining and educational visit to the Museum of Zoology and Natural History.