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Cappella Sansevero's Macabre and Mysterious Anatomical Machines

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posted on Jan, 27 2015 @ 05:01 PM
Among the historical buildings in the heart of Naples, Italy, is the chapel Cappella Sansevero (aka the Capella Sansevero de' Sangri or Pietatella) which began as a private chapel built on the grounds of the Sansevero family residence, the Palazzo Sansevero, in about 1590. In the middle of the 18th century, a fascinating Italian nobleman, Raimondo di Sangro, Prince of Sansevero, undertook a reconstruction of the chapel which included 28 unique works of art by some of the foremost Italian artists of the time.

Raimondo was quite an interesting character; having been educated by Jesuits from the age of 10, he was an archetypal polymath fascinated by numerous scientific and occult pursuits. Among the many labels that could be applied to Raimondo: prince, prolific inventor, distinguished military commander, author, publisher, scientist, engineer, alchemist, Freemason (in fact, head of the Neapolitan masonic lodge), and alleged Rosicrucian. He was fluent in a number of European languages as well as Arabic and Hebrew. He was also once excommunicated by a cardinal of the Catholic Church only to later have his excommunication later revoked by Pope Benedict XIV.

From Wikipedia:

Many legends grew up around his alchemical activities: that he could create blood out of nothing, that he could replicate the liquefaction of blood of San Gennaro, that he had people killed so that he could use their bones and skin for experiments. The Capella Sansevero was said to have been constructed on an old temple of Isis, and Raimondo was said to have been a Rosicrucian. To justify this, locals pointed to a massive Statue of the God of the Nile, located just around the corner from Raimondo's home. To add to the sense of dread, Raimondo's family home in Naples, the Palazzo Sansevero, was the scene of a brutal murder at the end of the 16th century, when the composer Carlo Gesualdo caught his wife and her lover in flagrante delicto, and hacked them to death in their bed.[7]

Raimondo di Sansevero died in Naples in 1771, his death hastened by the continuous use of dangerous chemicals in his experiments and inventions. In 1794, the Swedish naturalist Carl Peter Thunberg named the plant genus Sansevieria after him.

In about 1760, as part of the chapel's reconstruction, Raimondo commissioned the anatomist Giuseppe Salerno to create two of the more intriguing — and arguably, grotesque — exhibits within the chapel, the "Anatomical Machines" (of Raimondo di Sangro). The machines are anatomical models of an adult man and a pregnant woman, built on the subjects' skeletons and depicting complete cardiovascular systems in exquisite detail. The veins depicted even includes those within the (now hinged) skulls. Purportedly, the model of the pregnant woman originally included a fetus which has since been lost or stolen.

"Adam & Eve" Image Source

In fact, the level of detail present in the models was so great that rumors began to circulate that the "machines" had been made by a mysterious medical preparation similar in nature to plastination and achieved by injecting an unknown substance into the veins of two victims who had been murdered for the purpose. Excerpting again from Wikipedia:

The last years of his life were dedicated to decorating the Chapel of Sansevero with marble works from the greatest artists of the time, including Antonio Corradini, Francesco Queirolo and Giuseppe Sanmartino, and preparing anatomical models. These models are still on display in the Chapel, and have given rise to legends as to how they were constructed (even today the exact method is not known). Until recently many Neapolitans believed that the models were of his servant and a pregnant woman, into whose veins an artificial substance was injected under pressure, but the latest research has shown that the models very artificial.[8] He destroyed his own scientific archive before he died. After his death, his descendants, under threat of excommunication by the Church due to Raimondo's involvement with Freemasonry and alchemy, destroyed what was left of his writings, formulae, laboratory equipment and results of experiments.

Though the exact method is still unknown and is likely lost to history, recent analysis of the models has revealed their network of veins and arteries to have been constructed in a decidedly less gruesome manner. From Renata Peters, UCL Institute of Archaeology:

The skulls were sawed open and hinges were placed on either sides so that the skulls could be opened and seen inside, where a complex network of blood vessels is also present.

The appearance of the womb suggests that the woman may have died either while or after giving birth. No pubic symphysis (joint at the front of the pelvis) could be seen between the two bones of her pelvis.

Analysis carried out at the Institute of Archaeology - summary

Vessels from the two models were sampled in different areas. The samples were studied under transmitted and polarized light microscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR). The results of these analyses show that the vessels have a core made out of a metal wire twisted with fibres, and coated with a mixture of pigmented waxes (Fig 1).

No evidence was found to indicate that the anatomical machines were made following the techniques of injections. Likewise, no evidence was found to indicate that the models were injected with embalming substances.

The evidence uncovered during this study indicates that the circulatory system was artificially fabricated with a mixture of pigmented waxes (mostly beeswax), an iron wire and silk fibres, probably following techniques commonly used by anatomists of that time.

I was inspired to do a bit of research into this subject after reading an excellent article by Brent Swancer @ Mysterious Universe that showed up today on my news feed.
edit on 2015-1-27 by theantediluvian because: (no reason given)

posted on Jan, 27 2015 @ 05:29 PM


posted on Nov, 24 2016 @ 05:02 AM
a reply to: theantediluvian

This thread had/has a physical impact on me.

Each time I look at the pictures you posted in your OP, I get a very queasy feeling in my stomach and the start of a headache.

I've left the thread and come back to it 3 different times just to make sure I was just not feeling sick normally and attributing it to the thread.

I am not squeamish in the least, and the pics aren't "gross" anyway.

I need to leave this thread now.

Thanks and sorry...

posted on Nov, 24 2016 @ 10:14 AM
I was a docent for one of the Body Worlds exhibit, so I've seen actual plastinated humans and can tell that the veins are actually constructed and not the true veins. The torsos that they show are intriguing; I'd love to get a close look at both!

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