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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.
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.
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. 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.
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.