The "Giovanni Tumiati" Museum

Written by  Claudio N. Chiarini
The historic home of anatomical studies, Ferrara is one of the Italian cities that boast a theme museum.
For over two centuries the Giovanni Tumiati anatomical museum has been a cultural centre of major historic, scientific, and educational importance. Ferrara is in fact among the ten Italian cities that, since 1600, have been historic centres of anatomical research with museums devoted specifically to this field. Leaving aside for the sake of brevity that peerless anatomist, designer, painter and engineer Leonardo da Vinci, Ferrara is connected with some of the most illustrious names in contemporary medicine.

In the 16th century, an extremely learned Ferrarese doctor, Giovan Battista Canano (1515-1579) made a name for himself when he carried out "private" dissections in his own home. Giovan Battista Canano, born into a noble Ferrarese family of Greek origins that boasted numerous doctors and learned men, was also chief medical supervisor to the Papal court in Rome, while in Ferrara his teacher in medicine was his uncle Antonio Maria. His studies and personal research were to lead to an important work on myology, Musculorum humani corporis picturata dissectio, illustrated by Gerolamo da Carpi.

Canano was the first to discover the valves of the veins but he was chary of publishing this important result, so much so that, not much later, other famous scholars, like Falloppio, Fabrizio d'Acquapendente, and Morgagni were to benefit from it. Between 1600 and 1700 the first anatomy theatres sprang up in Padua, Pavia, Bologna and, later, in Ferrara. Thus the discipline of anatomy and demonstrations of it were officially recognized in the city.
Professor Giovanni Tumiati (1760-1804) was to win fame there as a leading teacher of anatomy and obstetrics. It is to him we owe the numerous anatomic preparations that make up the most important nucleus of the Museum of Anatomy that, in the 19th century, was enhanced by over two thousand items and models, still perfectly preserved, made by later anatomists. The only written inventory, of which two copies exist, dates from 1871 and lists all the items.

Tumiati was also active on the political and social fronts; but on Napoleon's retreat from Italy and on the fall of the Cisalpine Republic he was subjected to shameful treatment and forced to abjure his enlightened lay ideals. Upon his death in 1804 he was buried in unconsecrated ground.

The standstill led to a crisis, in the second half of the 19th century. Over a century later, in the early 1980s, the museum was very nearly eliminated to make room for the expansion of the university. At that point, thanks to the invaluable academic and financial helpfulness of the rector, Professor Antonio Rossi, two anatomy lecturers were detailed to reorganize the museum and its collection. Today this museum is waiting to be assigned a new and more suitable home. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the competent authorities will take action in time to guarantee the preservation and enhancement of its contents.