Medical Ethics in the Anatomical Theatre


Bologna, May 25, 2018: We visited the anatomical theatre at the University of Bologna where the first scientific investigations in understanding the human body were taking place. Here, we discussed both the ethics of using the bodies of recently executed criminals as test subjects and the origins of anatomical discovery in Italy.

–photo and text by Peter Kim

From Atlas Obscura:

The Anatomical Theatre of the Archiginnasio at the University of Bologna in Italy, founded in 1088, is completely carved from spruce with its imposing marble table still in position before the teacher’s chair. The theater was started in 1636 and completed in 1737. And although heavily damaged during World War II, it was painstakingly recreated to appear much as it did when candlelit for dissections of humans and animals alike.

Each corner of the anatomical theater is elaborately decorated. Carved sculptures of physicians like Hippocrates stand in niches, while alongside the central teacher’s chair are two “Spellati” — anatomical models with their muscles exposed. In the center of the ceiling is a carved figure of Apollo, surrounded by astrological symbols, and presiding over it all is a representation of anatomy as a woman, who is being offered a thigh bone by an angel.


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