Sculpting Medicine

We don’t think about it today, but how did physicians of centuries ago know what was inside a person’s body? There was no technology for taking pictures. They relied upon anatomical drawings and detailed sculptures. Much of those were developed by Anna Manzolini.

She was born in Bologna, Italy in 1714. At the time, women were expected to be caregivers of their families. Anna chose instead to be an essential caregiver to those with medical ailments.

At the age of 20, she married Giovannia Manzolini, a professor of anatomy at the University of Bologna. There were few universities training doctors at the time and Bologna was one of the best.

In the first five years of their marriage, she gave birth to six children. Only two survived. She and her husband created a studio in their home where Anna produced artistic sculptures as well as anatomical ones. For the anatomical sculptures, they needed to dissect the bodies they obtained from the morgue.                      

It didn’t take long for Anna to surpass her husband’s sculpting abilities. They became known internationally and Bologna became a center for physicians who wanted greater understanding of the bodies of those they treated.

She was so skilled that she was able to sculpt such minor body parts including veins and nerves. She was able to discover parts of the body that had been previously unknown.

When her husband died, she was left with no dependable source of income. She had to place one of her children in an orphanage. It was her reputation as a sculptor that led to an appointment as a Lecturer in Anatomy. Her husband, unlike many men at the time, did not take credit for her work. In fact, he helped her develop the reputation she so well deserved.       

She passed away at the age of 60. Many of her anatomical sculptures still exist today, 250 years after her death.

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“Sometimes I can’t figure designers out. It’s as if they flunked human anatomy.” – Emma Bombeck

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