The largest and best-known wax anatomical collection, La Specola is part of the Museum of Natural History in Florence and also houses some wonderful taxidermy, including now extinct specimens and a very questionable-looking hippopotamus.
La Specola is the oldest public museum in Europe, having started as the personal collection of the Medici family. It was opened to the public in 1775. Anyone could attend as long as they “looked clean.” The wax anatomical models were a huge hit, and the museum was attended by luminaries such as Goethe (who later wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther) and Emperor Leopold who funded the museum.
Of special interest are the wax anatomical Venuses, wax models of naked women posed in old-fashioned semi-erotic poses, but with their rib cages and stomachs pulled open to the world. These gutted female forms were a favorite of the Marquis de Sade.
Clemente Susini’s wax models, painstaking to produce and incredibly fragile, can be seen in only a few other locations throughout the world, including the Semmelweis Museum in Budapest, and the Josephinum in Vienna, and the Wax Anatomy Museum ot University of Cagliari.
The overlooked collection is surprisingly empty in the tourist packed Florence.
Obscura Day location: April 9, 2011.
Know Before You Go
The anatomical collection is now only viewable by guided tour. Call the museum to reserve a place or book a private group tour.