Lazzaro Spallanzani (b. 1729, Scandiano - d. 1799, Pavia) was a leadingfigure in the evolution of thought and of the scientific method, an evolutionthat led from “natural philosophy” to the birth of modern science inthe Age of Enlightenment. A sharp, tenacious researcher in an extremelywide range of fields in natural history - from biology to physiology, fromgeology to chemistry - he is particularly remembered for his research into spontaneous generation, reproduction, respiration, circulation and digestion, for which he was one of the first to use a strictly experimental method. His experiments were often profoundly innovative, such as those on artificial insemination or digestion “in vitro”.Initially a professor at Reggio Emilia and Modena, he was named by Maria Teresa d’Austria to hold the chair of Natural History at the University of Pavia in 1769, with the assignment of managing the Museum. From that time, he would alternate teaching stints with numerous trips to the Alps and to the Lagoon of Venice, Portovenere, Marseille, Constantinople and the Balkans, and to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. During these excursions,which were real scientific expeditions, he collected material both for the museum in Pavia and for his own personal collection of natural products that he kept at his birth house in Scandiano.
Upon the scientist’s death, Lazzaro Spallanzani’s personal collection was purchased by the Municipality of Reggio Emilia together with the furnishings that went with it. The collection, hosted in the northern wing of the S.Francesco Palace since 1830, has been kept as it was for over two centuries. Originally distributed among the rooms in Spallanzani’s house, this collection still reflects its dual nature as a scientific document and as elegant, extraordinary furnishings. The presence of manyartistic and crafted pieces, in which interest for the natural material is combined with a decorative purpose asdomestic furnishings, along with the presence of art fully assembled specimens, is a reference to those “Wunderkammern” from which the nature museum originated.
The "personal memories" and "specimens of plants"
In the first room, personal and furnishing items are hosted together with specimens of plants. Also present are mementos of Spallanzani’strip to Turkey, a checkerboard with one hundred squares (in amber), alabaster vases, small sculptures, curious knick-knacks made with sea shells, large pictures the scientist himself produced by assembling panels from the Historiae naturalis by Polish naturalist Jan Jonston (1603-1675), and small tables in smoothed stone. The plant specimens include several small frames with examples of aquatic plants. Furthermore, an herbarium -probably not completed by the scientist - contains species from both local and exotic sources on 445 sheets.
Chessboard in amber (1750/1790) by information unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
Chessboard made of amber of different tonalities. This version of the game, probably originated in France in the 18th century, has 100 squares and 40 pawns.
All of the pieces (squares, pawns and boxes) have little figures and French mottos visible in transparency under the thin amber layer.
Artificial flowers made from shells (1770 - 1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
Flowers made by assembling small bivalves shells. These specimens, like other pieces of the collection, are mounted on small gilded wooden fulcrums. In Pavia Museum, Spallanzani also used the same bases to give greater emphasis to pieces and give more elegance to all the collection.
Parrot made from shells (1770 - 1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
Another beautiful object: a small parrot realized by the assembling shells tecnique.
Carrara marble with pyrite crystals (1770 - 1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
For his furnishing accessories, Spallanzani, combines natural materials and high handicraft. Like the baby in the cradle, made of saccharoid marble sprinkled with minute pyrite crystals.
Carrara marble with quartz crystal (1770 - 1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
Or like this child climbing a cliff adorned with quartz crystals.
Little table (1782 - 1782) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
Even the tables become for Spallanzani a set of stone samples. This one is made of Serravezza marble (Alpi Apuane, Toscana, Italy) in three colors: red, black and white. The scientist writes to his brother in 1781: "There will be several tables of Viano stones, that are very beautiful an then an oval coffee table rather great, I bought in Carrara, and that is really unique. It has three colors, black, white and red, large round spots"
Gold frame with illustrations from "Historiae naturalis" of Johannes Jonston (1675/1790) by information unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
Spallanzani made the college with zoological tables assembling the illustrated pages of four volumes of Historia Naturalis by Johannes Jonstonus, a Polish naturalist (1603-1675), in carved and gilded frames. The text itself was largely outdated in 18th century but Spallanzani grately admired the beauty of the illustrations and decided to use them as decorations for his room.
Carved coconuts (1770/1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
Coco de mer (1770 - 1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
Oddly shaped coconut
Herbarium of Lazzaro Spallanzani (1770 - 1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
The Spallanzani herbarium comprises 445 sheets, each one containing one or more specimens. The dried plants are glued to cut paper sheets and attached to the red cardboard. The herbarium, probably, was not created directly by Spallanzani, but it is a collage of other works.
The animal kingdom
The most remarkable part of the collection was meticulously arranged in the second hall according to the Linnaeus system used in the late 1700s. To this day, the specimens still rest on elegant gilded pedestals and in vases that Spallanzani fashioned to resemble those in Pavia. In the showcases, the various classes of the animal kingdom are arranged in order, from the more complex organisms to the simpler types.
Human fetus (Homo sapiens) (1770 - 1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
The first showcase shows “Poppanti” (mammals). They comprise a small collection of human foetuses in various stages of development, used for the study on pre-natal development and procreation.
The interest of the scientist for the "abnormal", expressed both in human and animal world, is proved by the presence of teratology speciments.
Human penises (1770/1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
In the mammals showcase two male anatomical specimens, perhaps attributable to research on blood circulation, are shown.
Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) (1770 - 1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
For Linnaeus, the first order of Aves class is the sparrowhawk class. Among the various specimens represented, there is a peregrine falcon prepared
with the velvet cap in use in the practice of falconry.
Dissected lizards (Lacerta bilineata) (1770 - 1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
In the Linnaean classification, the Amphibia class includes current classes of Reptiles, Amphibians and part of Fishes. These organisms were studied by Spallanzani on several occasions. He used many toads, marbled newts and green lizards, to carry out the research on fertilization and on the "spermatic worms".
These studies are confirmed by specimens with showy abdominal fissures, like these lizards preserved in vese.
Triangular boxfish (Ostracion concatenatus) (1770 - 1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
In the Amphibia class appear grotesque selachii preparations including the unlikely "Cofano Concatenato", in part imaginatively relized. It is made combining the body of a natural fish with a plaster head that stretches in an impossible jaw adorned with shark teeth imitations.
“John Dory” or S.Peter's fish (Zeus faber) (1780 - 1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
The cabinets with fishes contain most of the specimens gathered by the scientist during his numerous journeys in the coasts on the Mediterranean sea.
Octopus (Octopus vulgaris) (1770 - 1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
In the Worm class are classified current Echinoderms, the Antozoi (Scleractinia and coral elegantly mounted on golden fulcrums). Cephalopods molluscs such as squid or octopus, were the subject of the research about functionality of their effective visual organs.
Nautilus (Nautilus pomponius) (1780/1790) by information unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
Specimen of artistically inlaid Nautilus.
Yellow coral (Dendrophyllia ramea) (1770 - 1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
The corals, like this wonderful specimen, were called by Spallanzani "piantanimali" ("animal-plants").
Red coral (Corallium rubrum) (1780/1790) by information unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
This red coral speciment has on the top a carved child.
The mineral kingdom
As was the practice in 18th Century collections, fossils (gathered in Bolca, the Apennines and Sicily) are given the important task of creating a “bridge” between the animal and mineral kingdoms, the latter represented by stalactite sand stalagmites on gilded pedestals, a large collection of smoothed stone tablets, and minerals .Sometimes alternating with the specimens are crafted pieces such as delightful snuff boxes made of agate. “Volcanic products” close out this compendium of the natural world. They were collected personally by Spallanzani during his trip to the Two Sicilies, as he climbed Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Stromboli and Mt. Etna.
Copper (1770 - 1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
In Spallanzani collection, the Mineral Kingdom is represented by several mineralogical and lithological specimens, housed in four cabinets.
An entire wardrobe is dedicated to “volcanic productions”, mostly obsidians and pumices collected by Spallanzani himself during his journey in southern Italy and Eolian Islands (1788).
Obsidian (1780/1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
Paesina stone (1770/1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
Several polished rocks of various kind, colour and provenance are present, like “figured stones”, such as "Paesina stone" that suggests the skyline of castles ruins and villages
Marly limestone with dendrites (1770 - 1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
And also like dendrites, manganese oxides. This one "draws" tree-like forms on limestone bedding planes.
Amethyst quartz (1770 - 1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
Artistically carved stones are often present, like this heart made by polished amethyst quartz
Coal (1770 - 1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
or the precious antracite specimen worked on the lathe
Little boxes made of agate (1770 - 1790) by unknownCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia
or the little agate boxes.
Musei Civici of Reggio Emilia would like to thanks:
Google Cultural Institute
Massimo Magnani, dir. Area Competitività e innovazione sociale
Elisabetta Farioli, dir. Musei Civici
Silvia Chicchi, ispettore naturalista
Georgia Cantoni, coordinamento redazionale
Selene Cabibbo, Andrea Viani, redazione
Fabrizio Giacchè, Marina Notari, collaboratori