Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

Science Portal


Entries in Naples: Life, Death & Miracles dealing with science, technology, and the history of science:

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Academy of the Secrets (G.B.della Porta)
Buonanno, Alessandra (physicist)
Antikythera Device (on this page, below)
Archaic units of measure
Bruno, Giordano
Buonanno, Alessandra (physicist)
Calabrian earthquake (1783) &
  Rebuilding Calabria After that Quake

Campanian Ignimbrite Eruption
    (alias, Archiflegrean volcano/caldera)
caves & karst areas
Cirillo, Domenico (botanist, doctor)
Circumvesuviana railway 
Coastal Caves of the Flegrean Fields
concrete, Roman
Dohrn, A., zoological station, aquarium
Early Modern Humans in Southern Italy
earthquake on Ischia (1883)
earthquakes in 1857, 1930, 1980
Mt. Etna-UNESCO World Heritage site

Eureka!—museum exhibit
The Fjord of Furore
The Flegrean Fields  
Fresnel, A.J. (and Fresnel lens)
Gauro, Mt.-volcanic crater
geology, main entry -then  (2)   (3)   (4) 
Geo-Paleontology Park & Lab (Pietraroja)
gullies of Puglia (Belvedere 'lama')
Homo Erectus (Aeserniensis) 
Homo Neanderthalensis
Humboldt, A. in Naples
iron, molten (used in Roman roads)
Kircher,  Mundus subterraneus & Naples

lighthouses in Naples
Lilio, the Gregorian calendar & the Castle
Majorana, Ettore
marine museums 
Marsili, active volcano
Mercalli, Giuseppe
Messina earthquake (1908)
Miranda-Manzolini (ceroplastics) (below this index)
natural concrete and Pozzuoli
natural sciences in Naples (1735-1845)

Nobile, Umberto
observatory, Capodimonte
Oriental Chestnut Gall Wasp
palm tree pest
photography (early, in Naples)
Physics Museum at University
Pietrarsa Railway Museum
Porzio & Enlightenment Medicine
Pozzuoli (ICDP drilling-2010)
Proud to be a troglodyte 
Purple Turd Gorge
Strada, Gino, Dr. (EMERGENCY)
Subsoil of Naples, the (book)
Telesio (& the 'Scientific Method')
turtles (rescue center)
vaccinations in Bourbon Naples (1798)
Vesuvius, eruptions (recent) 
Vesuvius observatory
veterinary hospital 
volcanoes (1)  (2)  (3)  (4)  (5)  (6) (7)
Whale of a Tale, A
What, Me Worry?
wind energy in Campania

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  supplemental article #1 in the Science Portal      added 27 Feb 2020

ceroplastics, anatomical modeling

nna Morandi Manzolini (1714–1774)  -  This, too, is art.

The number of Italian artists, architects, and musicians who went north to work for Imperial Russia in the 17-&-1800s is astounding. You will find in these pages a section devoted to the architects and comments in the entries about composers such as Paisiello and Cimarosa who did the same thing. You could call it a "brain drain" but it really wasn't; the artists were well-paid and generally stayed long enough to spread some of their artistic wealth to the Tsars and Tsarinas (a few stayed longer) and came home happy they had gone.

Here is one such artist, a woman in a highly unusual profession for anyone, much less for a woman in the late 1700s. Catherine II of Russia  asked Anna Morandi Manzolini of the University of Bologna to come to Russia to lecture in anatomy and in the use of precise anatomical wax models in the medical profession. Manzolini was acknowledged to be the greatest anatomical wax modeler in Europe. The Czarina also made Manzolini a member of the Russian Royal Scientific Association.

Little Anna Morandi started out modestly, headed for the traditional domestic lifestyle that most young girls were groomed for. Her parents had the means to send her to a school where she studied art. She took to sketching and painting and did well. Along the way, she ran into her future in the form of Giovanni Manzolini, also a talented artist and aiming for the medical profession. They fell in love, became childhood sweethearts, and got married. She was 20 and he was 24. After five years of marriage, she was the mother of six children. He had become a professor of anatomy at the university of Bologna and due to his own natural artistic ability was one of the founders of ceroplastics, the art of using wax models to teach anatomy. It seemed to happen quite naturally; she simply learned everything he knew about crafting such models and worked alongside of him at the university as an assistant lecturer. Again, this was in an age when women didn't do such things. They could paint and did, write and did, make music and did. But in order to do what she did, Anna had to dissect cadavers so she could model the anatomy correctly. By her own count she dissected about one-thousand cadavers in the course of her career. Husband and wife worked as a team for years and their reputation for turning out quality spread. I have seen no estimate of the number of ceroplatic models they turned out together or she, by herself, after her husband died. My guess is several hundred, spread throughout Europe as their reputation grew.

Her works ranged from the simple but useful the model of the hands and the human ear, as shown here (l & r).

to the incredibly complex:

The text that accompanies this image on the website of the Science Museum in Bologna says:
Fetus with umbilical cord and placenta attached. Wax, 55 x 44 cm [c. 22 x 17 inches]. This is a full-term fetus in which part of the anterior abdominal wall has been cut away to show the origins of the umbilical vessels, continuing out to display the umbilical cord and the placenta on the right. A portion of the amniotic membrane has been sectioned to show the vascular network of the placenta.
Anna's husband died from TB in 1755 at age 45. She was left with little means of support. The University of Bologna had to bend the rules, but she now became Lecturer in Anatomy at the university, a prestigious position, under her own name. She kept at her ceroplastics and became the most sought-after such provider in Europe of these absolutely essential tools for medical schools. Her work became the archetype of such models and the forerunners of those used even today. She received offers from other universities but turned them down. She stayed in Bologna and held lectures on anatomy, not just to doctors but to curious grand tourists as well. She imparted expert knowledge of anatomy derived from years of experience. And she was full of stories of how she or she and her husband had, for example, discovered several previously unknown anatomical parts, including the termination of the oblique muscle of the eye. She was the first person to reproduce minute body parts in wax, including capillary vessels and nerves, and her work was so skillful that, by many accounts, onlookers found themselves asking "Is that a model or the real thing?"

She certainly didn't get rich. In 1769, five years before her death, she had to sell everything. She had spent every cent on her life's
her books, her tools, and whatever models she had kept. It all went. The gentleman who bought the collection promised he would take care of it and provided her with a monthly stipend to live on as well as a place to live. He apparently kept his word, because at least that collection has found its way back, after 250 years, to the Anatomical Museum of the University of Bologna. The museum, itself, has a
list of 60 of her works, very few of which (5 or 6) are actually on display. They have index cards with photos of many of the others. The items on this page are from their on-line display. It is not clear (at least to me) how many of these models still exist (a lot can happen to a clump of wax in 250 years!) and which ones are on display in Bologna or anywhere else, for that matter, perhaps in medical museums in places that bought them originally.

Anna did two models that are less anatomical than they are "human interest". One is a wax self-portrait in which she shows herself dissecting a brain (image, top right). The other is another
wax bust, posed in similar fashion, of her husband a tribute to her childhood sweetheart and her partner.

Anna Morandi Manzolini died in Bologna in 1774 at the age of 60.

English-language bibliography, sources:

Messbarger, Rebecca, The Lady Anatomist: The Life and Work of Anna Morandi Manzolini, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2010.

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  supplemental article #2 in the Science Portal      added 4 March 2021 

Alexander von Humboldt in Naples and Naples in Volcanology
by Luciano Mangiafico
(with Jeff Matthews)

Humboldt. Portrait by Joseph Stieler (1843).
Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt
(1769-1859) was one of the great European polymaths (Jacks-of-all-trades and Masters of Most) in the natural sciences of the late 1700s and early 1800s. In my treatment of him here I deal with him as a geologist, specifically, a volcanologist on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius. It was, as you may imagine, a good place to study volcanoes. Geologists like Italy because of the volcanoes and the great karst formations and caves in the Alps and in a few other places farther south.
              [karst: stalactites, stalagmites, etc., geologically termed "speleothems".]

He was in Naples for the first time in 1805 after an extended stay in the Americas, where he had gone volcano hunting, among other things, first in Central and South America and then in the U.S. where Thomas Jefferson welcomed and encouraged him. In his five years in the New World he did what he did best
everything. He explored, measured and described the languages, the people, the landscape, and flora and fauna of those lands. He climbed and studied volcanoes such as Cotopaxi, the second highest summit in Ecuador, at 5,897 m (19,347 ft) and one of the world's highest volcanoes.
Mt. Vesuvius, 1944 eruption. Photo
courtesy of Herman Chanowitz. Photo
restoration by Tana A. Churan-Davis.

When he came to Naples in 1805  it was with French scientist Joseph Guy-Lussac
(1778-1850) and Franz August O'Etzel (1783-1850). Also, back in Italy he had a chance to visit his older brother, Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) in Rome. William became a prominent scholar in language and ethnolinguistics.

In Naples he and German geologist, Leopold von Buch
(1774-1853), planned studies of Vesuvius and, really, of geology in general. These were not trivial studies by any means. These were basic to the study of the earth and as important in their day as the theory of plate tectonics one-hundred years later a "pillar"of modern geology. If you ask, What did they NOT know in 1795 about the earth? a lot. Where did the earth’s physical features even come from? what is a rock, anyway?

James Hutton
There were two theories. The first one came from German geologist, Abraham Werner
(1749-1817). He said the earth’s  physical features had formed when cooling and lowering of the seas had allowed dissolved matter to emerge and crystallize. Believers in his theory were called Neptunists, named for the Roman god of the seas. On the other side was Scotsman, James Hutton, (1726-97) (called "the father of modern geology") who thought the earth’s features had emerged from volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and phenomena caused by pressures in the hot interior of our planet. Hutton’s followers were known as Plutonists, after the Roman god of the underworld. In the Alps and at Vesuvius Humboldt and his friends sought evidence to help settle the controversy. That is very basic stuff. And they could sit near Vesuvius in pleasant Naples and beat each other up over this great controversy, surrounded by coffee and rolls, and now by a thriving commercial rock and lava market that locals had set up to cater to commerce from the growing Grand Tourist trade, who all wanted tangible souvenirs of Italy! 
Painting by Sir Henry Raeburn (1776)

Naples and Vesuvius were ideal. Vesuvius erupted frequently, was easy to climb, and was near an accessible large city, where other scientists and documents could be consulted. Nature was ready for them! On July 26, 1805, a few days after their arrival in Naples the earth shook from a massive earthquake. The epicenter was inland, but the Naples area suffered damage. Then, during the night of August 11-12 a tremendous noise broke the stillness and a jet of fiery rocks and ashes rose from the main crater of Vesuvius to a height of about 200 m/600 ft. Other mouths then opened on the flank of the volcano and five distinct rivers of lava came down from the eruption sources, one of which went all the way to the sea in the town of Torre del Greco. Humboldt couldn’t believe his luck. He and his friends went to study the eruption up close, going up three times (some sources say six times) during their stay in Naples.
(Terminology: magma is the hot silicate liquid pooled beneath the surface; when a volcano explodes and that material is forced onto the surface and starts to flow freely, it is called Iava.)

Humboldt learned what he could from the experience but was still bothered by a few things. He worried about the commercialization of the area. "Rock and lava dealers," he said, have taken over and would sell you anything just to get your money. That was not science. But even the science
well, he said in 1795, "Look at Vesuvius. We have written 200 papers about it in the last 150 years and it all amounts to little more than a laundry list of eruptions. There is very little of scientific value."  (cited in Rapisarda, below)

Bits and Pieces of Vesuvius
Whether you were a Grand Tourist and just wanted "something to take home" or a geologist
who wanted something to study, this is what you were looking for.
(comments below)





Comments:  "Bits and pieces" —small slabs of the volcano embedded with other smaller bits; solidified shreds of magma (called 'lava' when it is still hot and flowing. Maybe #3 might  cause the Neptunists and Plutonists to get testy with each other; #4 is a carefully prepared display box (in the collection of archaeologist and geologist Sir William Hamilton; #5 is unusual,  scientists have engraved the place and date, and, movingly, also tributes to other geologists, all put in with a stylus when the material was still warm and malleable (this image is filtered to bring out the text). Some of these samples are in the Berlin Museum of Natural History. It is not clear if any of them came directly from Humboldt, himself. His vast number of travel diaries are still being sorted and are currently being digitized.
Humboldt was primarily interested in studying and acquiring samples of volcanic "products", and in Naples there were several  important rock and mineral collections that Humboldt wanted to see. One of the most extensive belonged to Guglielmo  (William) Thomson (1760-1806), an English doctor who had moved to Naples in 1792 and set himself to the study of volcanoes. He was one of the 60-70 English scientists gathered around William Hamilton. (Thompson has truly "gone native", even legally changing his name to "Guglielmo"!) Humboldt also studied the collections of Duke Nicola Filomarino della Torre (1778-1842), reassembled after his late father’s collection was plundered and the duke and his brother killed during the Revolution of January 1799. (That lasted six months, was very brutal on both sides, and showed little respect for scientific rock and lava collections!)

At the end of August 1805 Humboldt left Naples for Rome and then set out for Berlin. He was back in Naples for a few days in late 1822 to study the eruption in Oct-Nov of that year. He had gone with his king, Frederick William III of Prussia
(1770–1840) to the Congress of Verona of Sep-Dec 1822 and took time off to go back to Naples. As usual, he got in as much research as possible.

What can you in the end say about Alexander von Humboldt in Naples? His dedication and energy were contagious. He was good for science in the city, but
what the city did to him was vital for his own reputation as a scientist. Here is where he started his shift to Plutonism. He helped settle one of those questions that then became a "pillar" of modern geology. Humboldt became a better geologist because of his time in Naples. Alexander von Humboldt died in 1858 in the city where he was born, Berlin. It was not yet the age of specialists physicists, chemists, 'thisists' and 'thatists'. That was coming, but for almost a century he was universally respected and revered as the Grand Old Man of Science. No scientist has so captured the imagination of the world, with the glorious exception of Albert Einstein.

1. De Ceglie, Rossella. Book Review of Marie-Noelle Bourguet, Le monde dans une carnet. Alexander von Humboldt en Italie (1805). Nuncius 34 
 pp. 207-210.  2019.

2. Rapisarda, Cettina. Lava memoriae deodati dolomieu. Alexander von Humboldts Gesteinsstudien in Neapel. HIN (International Review for Humboldt     Studies).
3. Repetto, Paolo. Humboldt Controcorrente. I quaderni di Altronovecento - Numero 9, 2018.
4. Surdich, Francesco. "The fortunes of A. von Humboldt in the Italian geographical culture of the XIX century." Bulletin of Environmental and Life Science, 2, pp. 42-55. 2020.
5. Wulf, Andrea. The Invention of Nature. New York: Knopf: 2015.
[from jm-thanks to Peter Humphrey, geologist, my good friend, and a good friend to this website.]

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  supplemental article #3 in the Science Portal - added Mar 15, 2021

The Antiythera Device (or Mechanism), the World's Oldest Computer

A 2,000-year-old device often called the world's oldest "computer" has been recreated. The Antikythera Mechanism was found on a Roman-era shipwreck in Greece in 1901. It is named for Antikythera, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, between Crete and Peloponnese. (On the map, below, Crete is the large island 30 km/20 mi to the SE below Antikythera.) The island of Antikythera, is narrow, 10km/6 miles long with a port for occasional ferry traffic. There are only about 50 residents, who are joined during the summer by 300-400 others. Many come to dive on the site of the famous wreck.
The device is thought to have been used to predict eclipses and other astronomical events. Only a third of the device survived, leaving us wondering how it worked and what it looked like. The back of the device was solved by earlier research, but the complex gearing system at the front has remained a mystery. Researchers from University College in London think they have finally figured it out using 3D computer modelling. They have recreated the entire front panel and hope to build a full-scale replica of the Antikythera device using modern materials. In mid-March, 2021, they published a new display of the gear system that showed its fine details and complex parts (image).

"The Sun, Moon and planets are displayed in an impressive tour de force of ancient Greek brilliance," the paper's lead
author, Professor Tony Freeth, said. "Ours is the first model that conforms to all the physical evidence and matches the descriptions in the scientific inscriptions on the mechanism". The device has been described as an astronomical calculator as well as the world's first analogue computer. It is made of bronze and has dozens of gears. The back cover features a description of the cosmos display, showing the motion of the five planets known at the time. But only 82 fragments - about a third of the device - have survived and have to be assembled. This meant scientists have had to piece together the full picture using X-Ray data.

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