Inside the chapter house of the Ospedale Vecchio are gathered the specimens prepared by Paolo Gorini that have until now survived in Lodi. There are one hundred and sixty nine human and animal specimens, set up between 1834 and the mid 1870s to serve as museum for demonstrative and celebrative purposes.
Paolo Gorini, who until 1857 was professor of physics and natural sciences in Lodi's Liceo Comunale (City High School), had developed various methods to create anatomical preparations. The simpler methods consisted of immersing the piece in an alcoholic solution; the more complex operations involved deep and diffused injections in the vessels of the bloodless body. The injected substances, absorbing and replacing the internal bodily fluids, destroy the humid environment where the bacteria responsible of decomposition is born and bred. To give you a contemporary example, the work of the scientist-artist Gunther Von Hagens (inventor of Plastination) while arguable is ideally similar to Gorini's, although the former uses silicon polymers.
Gorini's empirism pushed him to always experiment new techniques, of which we don't have any proof save for what Alberto Carli published in 2005 on the international magazine "Studi tanatologici", and later on other media. The solutions that the scientist adopted involved renown preservatives, like the famous mercury bichloride, higly toxic and even in Gorini's times often replaced by zinc chloride or bichloride. Therefore the Collection consists of a relatively considerable number of dry preparations, many of which of pathological nature. The interest for pathology is quite clear, since the preparation of "nice science cases" (as special medical cases, like deformities, used to be called) was aimed at creating tangible examples that doctors and scientists could observe and study. Anyway, both traditional dry preparations and Paolo Gorini's petrified specimens have different stories to tell. On one side, the scientist's petrified faces bring visitors back to a long time lost and rural Lodi; on the other, through the dry preparations physicians and historians recognize common and uncommon pathological cases belonging to a distant past. That's why the Collezione Anatomica Paolo Gorini is most of all an historical collection: fortunately some infrequent cases are kept here and, if adequately studied, Gorini's preparations could still tell us a lot about the diseases and the life of the people of Lodi in the second half of the 19th century. And yet, this collection can't be valued only for its view on the history of science, but also from a humanistic point of view. Indeed the collection represents an evidence of unquestionable value regarding society and life in the years before and during the Risorgimento. It's an historical insight on the relation between materialistic-cultural intent and society; between the concept of mortality (both scientific and humanistic) and the contemporary philosophic context; between the metaphor of the tangible body and the longing for the spirit, present in many romantic-clinic poems or prose typical of the literary movements of Verismo and Scapigliatura.
The pieces exhibited in Lodi can be divided in three categories:
They are human and animal specimens prepared by the scientist from the 1830s till the mid 1870s, when Gorini started studying cremation and the incineration of organic substances. As repeatedly described, they were often specimens of pathological nature. Paolo Gorini's dry preparations were actually a lot similar to the many preparations that were done in Italy at that time, today kept in several museums and collections. Amongst the Gorinian specimens, there are some that stand out, like: a rachis affected by hyperkyphosis, a breast bone with stiff articulation of the lower extremity of the clavicle, a pelvis with a grave malformation of the thigh joint, some cases probably affected by tubercular infections, some vertebrae with spinal caries.
We also point out a longitudinal section of a sabre shin due to neoplasm alterations, a couple of unconsolidated fractures of tibia and fibula (one of which shows a voluminous osseous callous), and some interesting rough preparations of osseous pieces of the lower femur affected by sarcoma.
You can also find: a grave anomaly of the upper extremity with a two-fingered hand directly inserted in the humerus (and an undersized metacarpus), a specimen of a left foot with six toes due to a double phalanx of the fifth-toe, and a preparation of a forearm and hand with zycodactily. The dermis, which preserves the ungueal appendixes, has been removed and applied in guise of a hand on ligneous support. Pathological and normal specimens of the upper and lower extremities are quite numerous, and in one of them you can still clearly see the pipe that the scientist had inserted to inject the preservative substance.
Other pieces are represented by various myo-tendinous preparations of arms, forearms, hands, legs and feet (often affected by varus deformities).
Larger pieces of dry preparations are also present in the collection. There's an example of preservation of emithorax and left shoulder girdle: you can appreciate the well preserved myo-tendinous fasciae and the deep artery and vein vessels. But also a preparation of another left shoulder girdle, with a shoulder blade adherent to the costal plane.
Alongside these specimens you may also see a myological and vascular preparation of the head, neck and the shoulder girdle plus an additional myological and vascular preparation of the head, neck and shoulder of the left arm. Finally, a specimen of the muscles and vessels of the neck with hypertrophy of the thyroid, particularly developed on the left side, and a further specimen of the vessels in the neck with preservation of its connections to the sternum, the shoulder girdle and the base of the cranium.
Smaller, but not less interesting, are four face specimens (preserving the ocular orb), one of which presents oculomotor and optical nerve muscles. Next to these, a mandibula with tongue, epiglottis, trachea and hyoid muscles, and a specimen of epiglottis, larynx and the first trachea rings.
Just as interesting, three gynecological preparations: the first one contemplates an uterus and annexes, sigmoid and rectum. Two voluminous bilateral ovary cysts can be noted; the second one is a section of pubic symphysis with the conservation of the uterus. The third case is a preparation of a female vesicle with preservation of the urethra.
Distinct from the dry specimens are the preparations that the scientist indicated as petrified, hence following the tracks of Girolamo Segato – works of whom are today kept in Florence – and the almost contemporary Efisio Marini, from Cagliari. Suggestive and charged with the thanatologic themes typical of the scientific and humanistic culture of the late 19th century, the petrifactions narrate Gorini's (and Gorini's contemporary society) evident inclination towards commemorative preservation; but not only.
In 1872 the scientist from Lombardy is summoned to Pisa to take care of the preparation of Giuseppe Mazzini. It's well known that Giuseppe Mazzini's body was just one of the many of the 19th century to undergo such thanatological treatments, aimed at preserving laic relics.
According to Bertani, a relic of laical nature, mummified like a pharaoh, a pontiff or a saint, would have represented at that time a remarkable weapon in the political and cultural battle between the laic State and a part of the Church. Ironically, these two poles have a common concept of ‘relic': as a perpetuation of a memory in its most physical, tangible and unique way. In chapter twelve of Promessi Sposi, the Italian novelist Alessandro Manzoni describes a grim procession of people gathering around the shrine of "San Carlo". The character of Federigo Borromeo is reluctant to exhibit the relics (being immersed in a faith of his own, far from the beliefs of a poor and pestilent lost little village), but he displays them anyway "for eight days, on the altar of the duomo":
Amongst the dim light of thick lamps, the high voices in song, underneath a rich canopy, advanced the case, carried by four canons, that kept changing, guised in grand styl. The venerated body, dressed of magnificent clothes and miter, showed through the crystals; in the mutilated and broken shapes you could still see some trace of the ancient countenance, as represented in the images and as remembered by some who had seen and venerated him in life.
(Alessandro Manzoni, I promessi sposi, Mondadori, Milan 1995, p. 608)
Before and during the times narrated by Manzoni (in the Middle Ages especially) the incorruptibility of a body was considered as proof of sainthood; but the conservation of a real martyr of the Italian cause like Mazzini did not happen thanks to a miracle. Instead it happened thanks to chemical formulas, certainly secret, but theoretically verifiable and reproducible, according to a laic, scientific religion. On top of that, during such material times, it was a scientist whom took care of the important mummification. Through the secrecy of his formula he takes the guise of a minister or a priest, increasing even more the value of the relic and making it an icon of scientific modernity, able to defeat death (or perpetuate it) thanks to a technique that embodies both mystery and enlightenment.
In conclusion, in the second half of the 19th century Francis Bacon's aphorism scientia et potentia humana in idem coincident, revised in modern terms, seems to change its intimate meaning, and scientia (especially in the vaster and original sense of knowledge) becomes a positivist, experimental, applicative science. Such application involves contact with the social sphere (through politics), just as it implies an ideological power in addition to a cognitive power. In an Italy where physicians and scientists are public figures, protagonists on the national stage, their words and ideas can shape reality. Scientific research and political commitment are closely related. Furthermore, scientism as a cultural approach is based on the existence of science, but that's not scientific in itself: its grounding postulate, the transparency of the "nature of things", is not demonstrable; and the same goes for its objective, the creation of an ultimate goal through the cognitive process. Scientism seems to need a real act of faith.
However, in spite of what Agostino Bertani (real director of Mazzini's post mortem history) hoped for, Gorini's technique didn't succeed due to the poor conditions of the remains. Probably, Bertani was hoping the result would be similar to the bodies that you can still see in the Collection, in the chapter house. These remarkable preparations still show the accesses to the femoral artery and vein that the scientist used to inject its solutions in the bloodless body.
Gorini didn't conceive petrifaction for mere celebrative, funerary purposes. If anything, he wanted to offer his method, upon payment, to the numerous taxidermists operating in the most important natural museums. He also believed it to be particularly useful to universities and hospitals to teach anatomy or for the early judiciary autopsies. He even wrote, in a renown paper that he sent in the 1860s to the University of Turin, that certain tanning methods he utilized appeared to be very helpful to furriers. It stands to reason that, in reality, Gorini was asked to especially apply his method on Giuseppe Mazzini and on Giuseppe Rovani, father of the "Scapigliatura" literary movement. Rovani was also ideal master of Carlo Dossi, who specifically celebrated in the Note azzurre his beloved novelist and Gorini, portrayed as a scapigliato and bohémien of science (as Giulio Carnazzi justly pointed out).
A note written by Carlo Dossi suggestively takes us to the scientist's lab, describing preparations that still today rest in the displays of the collection:
In Gorini's biography there should be a description if his laboratory in S. Nicolò (Lodi)- Entrance – the door leading to the "brugna" dell'Ospedale – the room full of flasks and phials – the room of coal and volcanic material – the court of the furnaces; the court of the crematorium – […] the small study, with the preparations. Whole bodies and […] embalmed heads on chalk busts: the heart of the maiden, the hardness of the agate; the glans of the lad; the very aristocratic hand.
(Carlo Dossi, Note azzurre, by Dante Isella, Adelphi, Milano 1964, n. 2739)
The "very aristocratic" hand that Dossi describes is probably recognizable as one of the most interesting pieces of the Collection, perhaps also for its added value in literary terms. It's a hand that belonged to a young woman, and not only the ungueal apparatus and the skin folds are perfectly preserved, but the pores of her skin too.
Other information regarding the petrified specimens come to us directly from Paolo Gorini, in his testament (published in 1881 in his posthumous Autobiografia). Referring to the famous Exposition of Milan, expected to take place in 1881, Gorini ordered the executors of his will to send to the organizing committee of the event some of his famous preparations, like a toad, a heart of a boy ("very old preparation") and the renown head of a farmer of 1843; but not forgetting "a head of a woman whose preserved hair is extraordinarily pretty" but "so deformed in the face that it might be better to not to show" (Paolo Gorini, Autobiografia, Dossi, Perelli e Levi Editori, Rome 1881, p. 77), this too still stored in the showcases of the Collection. It's a specimen that dates back to 1847, as the incision on the neck still shows.
Paolo Gorini's preparations immersed in alcohol are not yet displayed and are waiting for an adequate setting for their presentation. They include, in particular, preparations of neonatal and teratological nature. The specimens had been submerged in an alcoholic solution. Considering the period in which Gorini worked, it's easy to comprehend why the preserving liquid in the vases used by the scientist is today completely evaporated. Paolo Gorini in fact did not use formalin, which hadn't been invented yet, but pure alcohol, much more volatile, especially if the container hadn't been sealed properly. Today in the vases you can find preparations that are completely white due to the immersion in alcohol.
Fig.01 - Anatomical Collection, former chapter house.
Fig.03 - Breast bone with stiff articulation.
Fig.05 - Foot with a double phalanx of the fifth toe.
Fig.06 - Longitudinal section of a sabre shin.
Fig.08 - Pelvis with stiff thigh joint.
The Collezione Paolo Gorini is located inside the Ospedale Vecchio of Lodi, situated in the wonderful 15th century Chiostro della Farmacia.
Wednesday from 10.00 to 12.00,
Saturday from 9.30 to 12.30,
Sunday from 14.30 to 16.30.
The Collezione Paolo Gorini, born in 1981 in the former chapter house of the Ospedale Vecchio, currently presents a new arrangement, thanks also to the works done to expand rooms, create a reception and conference room.