Curiosity and ingenuity - Scientific Collections and Experimentation at Padova in the 18th Century
AntichitÓ e arte
Minerali e rocce
Strumenti e macchine
The Human Body Il corpo dell'UomoVisita la collezione

It may seem strange, in the face of the variety of objects which made up the Vallisneri museum, that the interest of our "Philosopher" was above all in man. Man intended as Microcosm, no longer at the centre of the universe but still more so than the other components of the Creation.

Vallisneri was not actually so different, in this sense, from many of those who established naturalistic collections between the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth: Francesco Calzolari (1521-c.1600), Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605), Ferrante Imperato (c.1535-c.1621), Ludovico Settala (1552-1633), Olaus Worm (1588-1654) and Ferdinando Cospi (1606-1686), who died just when the young Vallisneri was beginning his collection. The fact that almost all of them were doctors or speziali (pharmacists) may help us to understand the reasons behind these shared interests. It is no coincidence, for instance, that in these collections the invisible thread that linked minerals, plants and animals was their real or pre-sumed therapeutic properties.

The Series of Anatomic Parts of Man no longer exists - and thus we do not know how they were conserved. It is certainly not necessary to justify the presence in the Vallisneri museum of "all the human veins detached from a corpse, elegantly set out in an orderly manner on a large table, and the same for the arteries and all the nerves: on other tables the veins of the mesenteries, the internal organs of the lower abdomen, parts of the heart and chest, the reproductive organs of both sexes, and all the other parts, minutely separated and distinct". The presence of many animals is not so easily traceable to his interest in man.

In fact, all aspects of the Vastissimo Imperio della Natura (Vast Empire of Nature), even those which seem to be the most distant from man or the lowest, were held necessary to further the our knowledge of man since everything, according to Vallisneri, followed the model of man, who was first, and was governed by the same universal laws as we are all indissolubly linked to one another.

According to Vallisneri, in the scheme of the "Gran Facitore Supremo" (The Great Supreme Maker), it is always man who is, par excellence, the point of reference for comparison, the utmost expression of the miracles of nature.
The objects in the museum which were not of immediate use in furthering our knowledge of man and the processes of man's existence still served to instruct and educate. We believe that what Vallisneri said about his choice of books can be applied to the very precious remains from Antiquity whose presence in the sphere of a naturalistic collection may today seem surprising. Everything, whether natural or man-made, was aimed at "instructing the eye and the soul" as the motto included in his Opere says: "manus nostrae sunt oculatae, credunt, quod vident".

© Università degli Studi di Padova - Centro Musei  Scientici