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The Lady Anatomist

The Life and Work of Anna Morandi Manzolini

Anna Morandi Manzolini (1714-74), a woman artist and scientist, surmounted meager origins and limited formal education to become one of the most acclaimed anatomical sculptors of the Enlightenment. The Lady Anatomist tells the story of her arresting life and times, in light of the intertwined histories of science, gender, and art that complicated her rise to fame in the eighteenth century.

Examining the details of Morandi’s remarkable life, Rebecca Messbarger traces her intellectual trajectory from provincial artist to internationally renowned anatomical wax modeler for the University of Bologna’s famous medical school. Placing Morandi’s work within its cultural and historical context, as well as in line with the Italian tradition of anatomical studies and design, Messbarger uncovers the messages contained within Morandi’s wax inscriptions, part complex theories of the body and part poetry. Widely appealing to those with an interest in the tangled histories of art and the body, and including lavish, full-color reproductions of Morandi’s work, The Lady Anatomist is a sophisticated biography of a true visionary.

248 pages | 50 color plates, 20 halftones | 7 x 10 | © 2010

Art: European Art

Biography and Letters

Biological Sciences: Anatomy

History: European History

History of Science


“Rebecca Messbarger’s sympathetic and insightful account into Anna Morandi Manzolini’s life and work, based on a wealth of original research, brings Morandi to life by offering a virtual tour of her arresting vision of the human body. A pleasure to read, The Lady Anatomist allows us to view Morandi’s world while taking the reader through the extant corpus of her surviving work including her anatomical writings. This book is a visually stunning project filled with rich illustrations and images that demonstrate the fusion of art and science that characterized the medical community at this time and illustrate the contexts in which Morandi thrived as well as the conditions that prevented her from fully realizing the possibilities of her unique position. Morandi has long deserved to be studied in her own right and Messbarger does that here with equal degrees of passion, skill, and engagement.”

Paula Findlen, Stanford University

“In The Lady Anatomist, Rebecca Messbarger shakes the dust of historical neglect from Anna Morandi Manzolini’s life and reclaims for her the international renown she enjoyed in the eighteenth century. Uncovering Morandi’s innovations in the realm of experimental anatomy, Messbarger analyzes the learned lady anatomist’s provocative representations of particular body parts in wax within a nuanced cultural history of Bologna’s scientific institutions. The Lady Anatomist is a story that needs to be told, filled with new, wonderful, and compelling material.” —Londa Schiebinger, author of Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science

Londa Schiebinger, author of Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Scien

“This astonishing and greatly informative account . . . paints a rich canvas of the political, cultural, and scientific life of eighteenth-century Italy and Bologna specifically. . . . May this work have many readers!”

The Journal of Clinical Investigation

“Rebecca Messbarger’s Lady Anatomist is a wonderful, richly illustrated book. . . . Not only has Messbarger come up with new material on Morandi’s life, she also successfully manages to combine this with recent historiographical discussions on the importance of materiality and of doing hands-on science. . . . [The Lady Anatomist] offers a rich and valuable insight into eighteenth-century anatomical practices.”

Social History of Medicine

The Lady Anatomist is nonetheless a pathbreaking book and a major contribution to the histories of science, women and art. Beautifully written, thoroughly documented, and wonderfully illustrated, it is a pleasure to read.”

Eighteenth-Century Studies

“Messbarger’s passionate, extensively illustrated biography and her deep exploration of the Bolognese archives offer an excellent basis for further investigations into recent concerns among historians of science with the role of the household, display and affect in the shaping of modern science. Meanwhile, The Lady Anatomist is a timely biography of a fascinating figure at the nexus between art and science in the eighteenth century.”

British Journal of History of Science

“More than a biography, this rich narrative outlines the religious, political, cultural, and scientific life of eighteenth-century Italy, specifically Bologna. Messbarger . . . explores these contexts to suggest how a female artist-scientist could succeed in spite of the prejudices and sanctioned restrictions against a woman professional. Anna Morandi and her remarkable work—so beautifully illustrated in The Lady Anatomist—demands the attention of art historians and scientists of various research interests. There is much for us to learn here, not the least of which is the importance of these scholarly communities to one another, both historically and today.”

Women's Art Journal

 “Rebecca Messbarger has filled the gap with a beautiful book based on extensive research in Italian archives and thoughtful analysis of Morandi’s work within the contexts of contemporary anatomy and learned culture. . . . Her analysis of Morandi’s self-portrait, or ‘visual autobiography,’ is both sensual and illuminating, as is the chapter dealing with Morandi’s work on the sensory organs. Messbarger also provides an excellent account of the process of making wax models. . . . The many photographs make The Lady Anatomist an attractive volume, but they are also brilliantly employed as an integral part of the narration. They make me wish I could some day go back to Bologna to see Morandi’s waxes again. Thanks to Messbarger, I would see them in a new light.”

Journal of the History of Medicine

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


Introduction: Changing the Angle of Vision

1  The Pope’s Anatomy Museum

2  Professing Anatomy

3  Re-casting

4  The Lady Anatomist

Esse est Percipi: Hands and Eyes

6  Beneath the Fig Leaf: The Male Reproductive System and Genitalia

Cessio ac Venditio: The Final Years and the End of an Age




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