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Exploring the MUSA in Naples

Small warning:

The images that will follow in this article and the topics covered may offend your sensitivity. If you are particularly sensitive to osteological, anatomical and formalin models, I advise you not to continue reading.

If you are lovers of art, science and extraordinariness, the MUSA (University Museum of Science and Art) of Naples is the perfect place for you. This fascinating place is located in the heart of Naples and is a real hidden treasure, being inside the University is free of charge, with booking of your own slot for the visit directly from their website: []. The museum collects singular collections of anatomical preparations that, for the high number, the variety of techniques used and the methods of conservation, constitute a heritage of incomparable historical, scientific and educational value of one of the oldest medical faculties in the world. The objects on display derive both from the ancient collections of the historical Neapolitan hospitals and from those of the Wunderkammer of the naturalists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Very interesting is the collection of Bezoars and various calcifications. Harry Potter fans, yes, those Bezoars, even in our history - muggle - were considered from time to time amulets or able to cure some diseases, from infertility to dizziness, or powerful antidotes against some poisons. It was even believed that drinking from a container that had contained a bezoar could prevent any poisons poured into the liquid from having an effect. But they are not only found in the belly of goats, they can be in any ruminant and some types of calcification, even in humans.

The vast collection ranges from formalin anatomical preparations, to osteological models and countless didactic compositions that tell us about eradicated diseases, how we are made under the skin, period instruments such as anatomical instruments, microtomes, microscopes, scales, etc… that allow to document the evolution and the results achieved by medicine in different epochs.

There is a clear focus on history, the desire to reconstruct the origins and development of anatomical studies that have accompanied the evolution of man over time. It is not uncommon to find students intent on drawing the preparations and practicing their knowledge of anatomy.

Among the collections present, the one of the Crani della Vicaria remains noteworthy, four skulls of criminals executed in 1800, as the name indicates, in the court of the Vicaria. The characters are Giuditta Guastamacchia, the surgeon Pietro de Sandoli, her father, Nicola and a hitman Michele Sorbo hired to kill Giuditta’s husband. On the skulls are still visible the signs of the studies of Phrenology.

For those who do not know, it was a pseudoscientific doctrine of the nineteenth century, (widely denied) according to which the psychic tendencies would depend on certain areas of the brain and the anatomical peculiarities of the skull of the individuals. In Turin there is a whole museum dedicated to Cesare Lombroso, on which I will do one of the next blogs, founder of the criminal anthropology based largely on the ancient studies of Phrenology.

The Museum is famous for its anatomical waxes, petrifications, Indian trophies, collections of skeletonology and fetal “monstrosities”. One of my favorite sections is the one of the ceroplastics, the works on display are the work of different modelers who lived between the end of the eighteenth century and the first years of the second half of the nineteenth century. We do not know the majority of the artists who created these works, only of three of them we have some information - Giuseppe and Gennaro Ferrini, Francesco Saverio Citarelli and Giuseppe Sorrentino, creator of the last work in the section. An incredible wax representation of the child with a parasitic twin at the chest level that describes a “monstrosity” born at the time in the nearby hospital of the Incurables, which “…attracted the attention of the whole health class of the incurables and also of many others, who came to look and learn”

To go back to Gennaro Ferrini, one of the works that most catches the eye are the heads of two Camorra members that show all the possible lesions from cutting weapons and blunt objects, detectable at the necroscopic examination. The waxes are reproduced using real bone skulls as a base.

Another very interesting section is the one on the tsantsas, trophies of the Shuar, (commonly known as Jivaros, a derogatory term that alluded to the “barbarity” of their customs). A head-hunting people living on the banks of the Amazon River in Ecuador, in the regions east of the Andes mountain range. The Shuar people define themselves as protectors of nature and incredibly, they managed to resist the dominion of the Inca empire and also that of the Spaniards. To this day they resist, carrying on their culture, they find themselves fighting for their own territory and their own beliefs against westernization and the expansion of multinationals. (Their history, their belief system, medicine and society is so interesting that it deserves a separate blog, so I will talk about it again!)

Below is a collection of vascular casts that caught my attention immediately after entering, the very fine details remind me of the anatomical machines of the San Severo Chapel, another incredible place in Naples. The technique of injecting substances into the blood vessels, which reproduced the vascular tree, dates back to remote and indefinite times, and has never stopped. These specimens date back to the years 1939-1940, and are corrosion casts, obtained with injections of neoprene-latex, of the vascular tree of organs such as, heart, kidney, lung and liver.

The museum is full of really interesting sections, so I leave you free to explore it and marvel at the other areas that I have not covered.

I also recommend you download the free app that will guide you through the museum path, explaining each section carefully. I hope it wasn’t too macabre a journey, once you get past the barrier of what is commonly considered obscene by our society, there is really a lot to marvel at!

So be brave and strong, if you are in the Naples area, don’t miss this incredible stop.

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