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RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY Edited by ALBERT RABIL, JR. RONA GOFFEN Associate Editors BRIDGET GELLERT LYONS COLIN EISLER GENE A. BRUCKER The Criminal and the Saintly Body: Autopsy and Dissection in Renaissance Italy* by KATHARINE PARK 

ON THE 17TH OF AUGUST 1308 Chiara of Montefalco died in the O small Umbrian monastery of which she had been the abbess. Her fellow nuns did not take any steps to preserve her body. None- theless, for five days it remained uncorrupted and redolent of the odor of sanctity, despite the blazing summer heat. At that point- not wanting to tempt fate further-the community decided to embalm the precious relic. In the words of Sister Francesca of Mon- tefalco, testifying some years later at Chiara's unsuccessful canon- ization procedure, "They agreed that [her] body should be pre- served on account of her holiness and because God took such pleasure in her body and her heart." They sent to the town apoth- ecary for "balsam and myrrh and other preservatives," as the apothecary himself testified,2 and they proceeded to the next step in contemporary embalming practice, which was evisceration. Sister Francesca's narrative continues: "And after the other nuns had left, Sister Francesca of Foligno, who is now dead, and Illumi- nata and Marina and Elena, who is now dead, went to cut open the body, and the said Francesca cut it open from the back with her own hand, as they had decided. And they took out the entrails and put the heart away in a box, and they buried the entrails in the oratory that evening. On the following evening, after vespers or there- abouts, the said Francesca, Margarita and Lucia and Caterina went to get the heart, which was in the box, as they later told the other nuns. And the said Francesca of Foligno cut open the heart with her own hand, and opening it they found in the heart a cross, or the image of the crucified Christ." Over the course of the next two days, Francesca of Foligno and her fellow nuns cut into the heart yet again, finding even more mi- raculous marks of Chiara's sanctity, all formed of flesh: the crown of thorns, the whip and column, the rod and sponge, and tiny nails. Encouraged by these signs, they examined the other organs, which they had disinterred from the oratory, and discovered-again in the words of Francesca of Montefalco-that "inside Chiara's gall bladder. . . there were three things that seemed to be round, so that they could not relax or rest until they knew what they could be. So they consulted with Maestro Simone of Spello, [the communal doctor of Montefalco and physician to the monastery], in order to ask him if these objects could have been caused by some illness. And they placed the gall bladder in his hand so that he could open it up. He did not want to do, this because, as he said, he did not feel himself worthy. So Francesca cut open the gall bladder and found in it three small stones."3 At this point-and here we take up the testimony of Chiara's brother, a Franciscan friar also in Montefalco-the nuns then came to the Franciscan convent to show him his sister's re- markable heart. From there they all proceeded to the church of Santa Croce where they displayed it to a host of townspeople, sev- eral of whom were healed by its miraculous power. I want to make two points about Sister Francesca's striking nar- rative. The first is that although we may find her account disqui- eting, there is no sign that her contemporaries reacted in the same way. Her narrative was corroborated by dozens of witnesses, in- cluding the cautious Maestro Simone himself, and neither they nor the ecclesiastical authorities charged with investigating Chi- ara's claim to sainthood indicated any reservations-or even any surprise-about the events of that hot week in August. Some ques- tioned the nuns' credulity, but none impugned their piety. Indeed, Chiara's postmortem was not an isolated instance. We can find a close analogue in the case of Margarita of Città di Castello (d. 1320), a Dominican tertiary whose heart was also extracted during em- balming and was found to contain three stones engraved with im- ages of the Holy Family, a procedure performed before the high altar in the presence of what her anonymous biographer called a "multitude of friars."s My second point is that the events described by Sister Francesca coincide with the emergence of autopsy and dissection as a regular and integral part of both legal practice and medical training in the cities of northern and central Italy. I aim here to explore the impli- cations of these events and this conjunction-it is, I will argue, no coincidence-for the period between the first recorded Italian au- topsy in the 128os and the work of Andreas Vesalius and his con- temporaries in the mid-sixteenth century. In the process I hope to lay to rest the persistent misconception that there was in medie- val and Renaissance Europe a deepseated "tabo0" connected with corpses and the closure of the body. According to the most recent versions of this myth, opening the body was seen not only as dan- gerous, contaminating, and polluting, but also as a violation of the divine prohibition on forbidden knowledge-perhaps even "the model for all such prohibitions," in the words of Marie-Christine Pouchelle. From this point of view, the practice of dissection was essentially punitive. Restricted to the cadavers of condemned crim- inals, it functioned to prolong their sufferings during execution into death. The medieval and Renaissance anatomist, despite elaborate social, verbal, and pictorial strategies designed to distance himself from these associations, nevertheless acted as state. First cousin to the executioner and torturer, he inscribed its penalties on the helpless bodies of those who transgressed its arm of the coercive norms.

The myth of medieval resistance to dissection is an old one, and like the flat-earth myth with which it is often associated, it has proved protean and apparently impossible to kill. Its late twentieth- century incarnation is especially vivid and attractive, invoking the traditional schism between medieval religiosity and the scientific rationalism of the Renaissance (here given a novel negative twist) while also mobilizing our liberal sympathies concerning capital and corporal punishment. It is also, like its more triumphalist predeces- sors, partial and distorted, imposing a false unity on the long mil- lennium between Augustine and Vesalius and ascribing to the peo- ple of that period modern anxieties and a modern sensibility essentially alien to their own. The true situation, as it turns out, was considerably more complicated. From at least the early twelfth cen- tury, opening the body was a common funerary practice, as the ex- amples of Chiara of Montefalco and Margarita of Città di Castello indicate. Over the course of the fourteenth century, it also estab- lished itself in Italian medicine as not only tolerated but frequently requested on the part of individuals and their families. Not until the mid-sixteenth century do we begin to see persistent hints of a new popular suspicion concerning dissection. I will argue that this sus- picion was not rooted in age-old taboos; rather, it grew out of dra- matic new anatomical practices widely perceived as violating not the sanctity of the body, in the first instance, but the personal and familial honor expressed in contemporary funerary ritual. And it was reinforced by new, and not unwarranted, fears that anatomists themselves occasionally acted as executioners.

As this last provision suggests, the supply of cadavers for public dissection was sharply limited. Executions were rarer in fifteenth- century Italian cities than we often imagine-Florence averaged between six and seven a year, for example-and only a very small proportion of executed criminals fit the criteria established by the university and guild: foreigners of low birth hanged during the winter months. (In the days before refrigeration summer dissections were unusual, for obvious reasons.)42 Nonetheless, the problem of supply did not appear critical, thanks largely to the limited demand for cadavers. Anatomy in this period was a static discipline, and dissections had a pedagogical end. It was widely ac- knowledged that "no one can be a good or fully trained doctor un- less he is familiar with the anatomy of the human body," in the words of the 1388 statute of the University of Florence, 43 but there was little sense of anatomy as an arena for research. In this sense, dissections functioned rather like an extension of anatomical illustration. Their goal was not to add to the existing body of knowledge concerning human anatomy and physiology but to help students and doctors understand and remember the texts in which that knowledge was enclosed.4 The situation changed dramatically in the years around 149o with a remarkable flowering of interest in anatomy as a problem not just of teaching but also of research. This enthusiasm for anatomy was not confined to doctors but swept up contemporary artists and other laymen, as is well known. Some artists began to perform their own dissections,45 while prominent citizens became a fixture at university anatomies, which later in the sixteenth century developed into theatrical events attracting an enthusiastic and often raucous crowd. The reasons for this change are complicated. They include the revival of antique art, with its interest in naturalism; the new enthusiasm of humanist doctors and scholars for the works of the Greek medical writer Galen of Pergamon, whose lost treatise on anatomy was recovered at exactly this time; and as we move into the sixteenth century the increasing availability of printed and il lustrated works of anatomy designed as coffee table books for a general audience interested in medicine and the secrets of the natural world. 46 Here, however, I want to focus not on the causes of this renewed interest in anatomy but its effects. The size of the audience increased dramatically in formal university dissections, which now began to assume a truly public character. The 1405 statutes of the University of Bologna allowed no more than twenty students at the anatomy of a male cadaver and thirty at that of a female. In his Commentaries on Mondino (1521), in contrast, Jacopo Berengario da Carpi claimed to have demonstrated the placenta of a hanged woman to "almost five hundred students many citizens."47 These larger audiences could no longer be accom- modated in private houses but required more spacious quarters: temporary structures of seats and risers set up in the interiors of churches, for example, and later in the sixteenth century, perma- nent anatomy theaters.+8 As part of the same process, the demand for dissectable bodies quickly escalated beyond the meager but regular trickle supplied by the local gallows and families (if any) swayed by the prospect of a free funeral. We can get some sense of the numbers involved when we consider that the fifteenth-century medical professor Bartolomeo da Montagnana wrote with consid- erable authority, having opened at least fourteen bodies. By 1522 Berengario claimed to have anatomized several hundred.49 Berengario's Commentaries give a clear sense of the new hun- ger for cadavers that drove early sixteenth-century anatomists. so He dismissed public dissections as useless displays, of interest only to tyros and curious townspeople. The true anatomist, he empha- sized, worked in private, slowly and methodically, surrounded only by a handful of students. Rather than choosing his bodies for their size and typicality (the case with public dissections), he sought out bodies of all descriptions: male and female, virgin and sexually experienced, young and old, healthy and sick, starved and well fed. 

This allowed him both to explore normal anatomy and develop a sense of the range of natural variation. Berengario in particular ad- vocated dissecting fetuses at different stages of development, and he called for repeated dissections, since exploring one organ often involved destroying others.s" ("May the reader note how much I have labored to understand the rete [mirabilis] and its location," he wrote, "and I have dissected more than a hundred human heads al- most solely on account of this rete.")s2 Only by dint of such varied and repeated observations could the anatomist truly come to un- derstand the divine craftsmanship with which the human body had been created. But how were all of these bodies to be obtained? The most ob- vious source for doctors was of course postmortems, and there is considerable evidence that they began increasingly to recommend these to their patients' families, even when the family was itself sat- isfied as to the cause of death, as we already saw in the case of An- tonio Benivieni. 53 But few doctors had practices large enough to generate vast numbers of corpses, and this was obviously not an op- tion for artists at all. Thus, they looked more and more to the other traditional source of cadavers: poor foreigners and others without families nearby to worry about their funerary rites. Only a very few of these ended up on the gallows; far more died in local hospitals, many of which were founded as charitable institutions to serve pre- cisely this group of people. Beginning in the 148os there is increas- ing evidence of this new source of supply. Thus, we find Leonardo da Vinci working with cadavers obtained from hospitals in Flo- rence, Rome, and apparently Milan. 

College of Surgeons, and he managed on one occasion to convince the surgeon employed by a local monastery to convey to him the body of one of his patients there, "a stranger passing through town on a pilgrimage."ss In time, however, even the hospitals proved inadequate to the task. They could not meet Berengario's need for fetuses, for exam- ple, and he was reduced to buying them clandestinely from local midwives. so But it is only in the next generation that anatomists be- gan to rely heavily on unofficial or extralegal sources of supply. This shift is already evident in Massa's Introductory Book of Anatomy (1536) where he discussed cranial sutures on the basis of "the heads of dead people in cemeteries."57 Massa's skulls probably came not from private graves but from ossuaries where the bones of those long dead were stored after being exhumed to provide more space in the crowded urban burial grounds. Some of his colleagues, how- ever, were less discrete. Grave-robbing was not a new phenome- non; we have already come across the early fourteenth-century case of the students of Master Alberto of Bologna, while the university statutes from 1405 refer vaguely to "quarrels and rumors finding or searching for bodies."s8 But the lack of surviving doc- umentation suggests that such cases were rare. Furthermore, the grave violated by Master Alberto's students had not been chosen at random: hanged the previous day, its occupant belonged to the class of condemned criminals earmarked as appropriate anatomical subjects. In the early days of dissection, respectable citizens, how- ever scandalized by the sacrilege involved, could still count them- selves safe from a similar fate. in With the increasing currency of dissection, this was no longer clear. In Bologna, according to Lodovico Frati, students attempted to remove corpses awaiting burial from private houses while Al- fonso Corradi says that in Padua they also assaulted funeral proces- sions. 59 But Vesalius marks the real turning point. One of the most surprising aspects of his great treatise On the Fabric of the Human Body (1543), compared to the works of his predecessors, is his lack of respect for persons and his candid pride in the acts of daring and deception required to obtain what he considered an adequate supply of cadavers. He and his students forged keys, rifled tombs and gib- bets, and stole in and out of ossuaries in a series of nighttime es- capades that he recounts with evident relish and amusement, par- ticularly when female bodies were involved. (This was often the case, given the small number of women executed for capital crimes.)60 The following passage is typical: "The handsome mis- tress of a certain monk of Sant'Antonio . . . died suddenly, as though from strangulation of the uterus or some quickly devastat- ing ailment, and was snatched from her tomb by the Paduan stu- dents and carried off for public dissection. By their remarkable in- dustry they flayed the whole skin from the cadaver lest it be recognized by the monk who, with the relatives of his mistress, had complained to the municipal judge that the body had been stolen from its tomb."6' It was this sort of practice that inspired a Venetian law from 155o that punished grave-robbing, which it associated with the growth of private dissection, by heavy fines.2 It is not until the middle of the sixteenth century, in other words, that we begin to find clear signs of persistent public concern regard- ing anatomical practice in Italy, and even then this concern coex- isted with well documented popular enthusiasm for the spectacle of dissection.3 The reservations of Italian city dwellers, unlike their English counterparts, concerned not dissection in general but the specific prospect that they or their loved ones might come under the anatomist's knife. Initially these reservations focused on tradi- tional issues: funerary ritual and family honor-hence Vesalius's own decision to delete from the revised edition of the Fabrica (1555) some of the more lurid passages concerning his quest for cadavers.

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