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The role of women in the development of modern anatomy


This research will reconstruct the role of two distinguished women, Marie Marguerite (also known as Marie Catherine) Biheron (17191795) and Anna Morandi Manzolini (17141774), in the development of the medical practice of anatomical modelling. Biheron and Morandi operated respectively in Bologna and Paris in the mid- eighteenth century and became renowned anatomists and anatomical modellers.

Exploring the circumstances that made it possible for Biheron and Morandi to gain medical authority, this project aims at expanding our knowledge of the status and social role of women in the historical world of anatomy. Anatomical models in wax promised to provide accurate insights into the inner body.

Regarded as potential replacements of the natural body, they offered a means to overcome traditional shortcomings related to the physical deterioration and the risks of contamination that characterised the setting of anatomical dissection. In the eyes of those who were involved in their commission, production and use, anatomical models were useful to the training of medical students and artists.

At the same time, anatomical waxworks were regarded as curiosities as well as teaching objects, and participated in the grand display of artistic, natural, and religious specimens that made the lure of the Grand Tour.

Concentrating on the work of Biheron and Morandi, I shall examine the circumstances in which their anatomical models became points of intersection between Grand Tour encounters, enlightened views of knowledge and sociability, and the emergence of new apparatuses for visualising and investigating the human body.

The comparative analysis of the works and lives of Biheron and Morandi will enhance our understanding of the relationship between gender and anatomy, and will provide a particularly felicitous case for reconstructing the role of women in the making of medical knowledge.

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