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FROM PR E V IOUS PAGE “A primary theme of her opus was the sensory organs,” says Messbarger.

“The Enlightenment is all about, ‘How do we know what we know? What enables sensory cognition?’ She was a really gifted anatomist and artist and did some remarkable things on that topic.” Although more famous wax modelers of the day placed their figures in

grand narratives, such as Biblical or mythical scenes, Morandi avoided moral context and presented the figures without embellishment. “Morandi is focused on the wonder of the body,” Messbarger says. She

believes this is one of the reasons Morandi’s work is less known today. The process of making anatomical models began with the grisly task of

dissecting cadavers to cast in wax. Messbarger believes that the eccentric nature of this work, along with Morandi’s status as a widow, contributed to the signora’s celebrity. “I think that it was exciting to think of a woman cutting up cadavers alone

in her house,” Messbarger says. “She was considered a serious scientist, and serious scientists of the time collaborated with her. But she was also a little bit of a show and a Grand Tour attraction.” In any case, Morandi was recognized as a remarkable anatomist by those

in the know, including Pope Benedict XIV, who was a great supporter of hers and a pivotal figure in the scientific climate of the day. “The really important figure is Benedict XIV, who becomes pope in 1740,”

says Messbarger. “He is a true Enlightenment figure.” To set the stage, the early years of the 18th century were a dark time for

scientific research in Bologna. “Morandi was born into a Bologna that was suffering from tremendous

cultural and economic decline,” says Messbarger. “After Galileo was con- demned, there was rigid control over what was taught and how. Scientists weren’t allowed to experiment in university. Professors retreated to the home to do hands-on experiments.” Benedict, who was born in Bologna and served as the city’s archbishop before his election to pope, helped restore his hometown to some of its former academic glory. In fact, he was an expert in human anatomy himself.

Rebecca Messbarger (BA ‘83), PhD, author of The Lady Anatomist: The Life and Work of Anna Morandi Manzolini

“Benedict wrote the four massive volumes on the doctrine governing

who is named a saint and when a miracle occurs,” Messbarger explains. “When you say the lame walked, the dead rose, or the blind saw, you have to decide between a natural cause and a supernatural one. Knowledge of anatomy was crucial for this.” The volumes Benedict wrote are the same ones used by the Church today. Benedict was also a supporter of women in the sciences, a relative rarity

at the time. “He was really about promoting scientific women to important public

A self-portait in wax by Anna Morandi Manzolini, on display at the University of Bologna

positions,” Messbarger says. “There were some people who didn’t like it, but on the whole it brought international recognition and Grand Tourists to Italy. Italian women were part of academies—even the leaders of several. A select number also ran printing presses. This is unique to Italy. Benedict installed a woman as the chair of physics at the University of Bologna and tried to install a woman as the chair of mathematics, amidst grumbling from the more conservative clergy.” With a different pope in power, it is unlikely that Morandi would have

been allowed to hold the academic positions she did or been given the resources to complete her models. Messbarger credits her line of research and her life’s work to a supporter

of her own: her father, Paul Messbarger, who was a professor in Loyola’s English department and who encouraged her to attend the Rome Center. “This all started when I went to the Rome Center. That’s why I’m doing

what I’m doing today,” Messbarger says. “My dad had such an embrace of the joy of liberal arts education, and he sure gave it to me. I would not be doing what I’m doing today, writing about this historic woman from Italy, if I hadn’t gone to Loyola, had the guidance of my dad, or gone to the Rome Center.” As for Morandi, her works are still on view at the University of Bologna,

including a self-portrait she made in wax. Messbarger hopes that her research will bring Morandi’s work back into the public discourse. The signora’s likeness, it turns out, has been waiting all this time.


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