Anatomical Machines

The Anatomical Machines can be seen in Naples (Via Francesco De Sanctis, 19) in one of the most symbolic Baroque buildings, the Sansevero Chapel.


The anatomical machines are male and female skeletons standing in the upright position, with the artery and vein systems almost perfectly intact.
The existence of notaries’ deeds and credit notes make it possible to date these “works” to 1763-64.1
At the beginning the two anatomical studies were kept in a room of the Palace called “the Apartment of the Phoenix” because of the similarity with the mythical bird’s ability to be reborn from its ashes, later they were moved to the underground Chapel, where they are to this day housed in two glass cases.2


Detail of the pelvis and femoral artery


The Machines were made by the doctor Giuseppe Salerno of Palermo, under the direction of nobleman and alchemist Raimondo di Sangro.
During his lecture on anatomy, a student told him that studying the human body on another person’s drawing made too difficult to understand how it was really composed.
That was the reason why he began to think of creating a representation of a real human body. Nevertheless to realize this incredible work he needed the help of a skilled collaborator, whom he found in doctor Giuseppe Salerno.3

Still today, it is not known which procedures or materials were used to obtain such an exceptional preservation of the circulatory system. On one hand The Short note, an anonymous guide to the palace and Sansevero Chamber, written in 1776, can give some information about the procedure of the anatomical machines’ production.4 However many experts think that this guide was written by Raimondo di Sangro himself, thus the lack of dispassion, which is the main reason why it cannot be considered fully credible.5


The debate regarding the technique reliability is therefore an open issue to this day. The guide tells about an “injection” of a mercury-based substance that Salerno would have created and soon after administered to the two corpses. This material would allow the “metallisation” of the blood vessels.6 There are some doubts about the credibility of this theory because Charles Gabriel Pravaz invented the syringe one hundred years later.7 The other possibility is that the circulatory system is the fruit, in part or wholly, of reconstruction carried out using different materials, among which are beeswax and some colorants. A part from the circulatory system’s origins it is certain that the bones and skulls are those of two real human skeletons8.

The description of the woman

In the following picture you can see the woman that has the skeleton of her right arm raised, this position is probably due to an escape attempt of the woman.


Woman's bust

In addition, it is possible to observe her eye balls, which show a frightening expression, still undamaged as well as her heart.
Moreover, she was pregnant and, thus, it is possible to see the open placenta and umbilical cord in her belly. The umbilical cord allows the foetus to be connected to the mother’s body.


Woman's placenta

The Short Note attest that “the tiny body of a foetus” was placed at woman's feet. It was possible to see the foetus up to few decades ago, until it was stolen.

In the following pictures you can see the details of the mandible and gall bladder.


Mandible and Gall-bladder

  • Photos by Matilde Molese moc.liamg|edlitameselom#| and main text by Edoardo Capriotti moc.liamg|39ittoirpac.odraode#| (November 2016)


  • Mario Buonoconto,Viaggio fantastico alla luce del lume eterno. Le straordinarie invenzioni del Principe di Sansevero, Alòs, Napoli 2005, pp. 84-89
  • Clara Miccinelli, Il Tesoro del Principe di Sansevero. Luce nei sotterranei, Ecig, Genova 1985, pp. 53-56

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