Anatomical Theatre "Giovanni Tumiati"


The University of Ferrara built its first permanent anatomical theatre in 1731. It can still be visited in the West Wing on the ground floor of Palazzo Paradiso (Via delle Scienze, 17).1

The project was entrusted to the Italian architect Francesco Mazzarelli.2



The current anatomical theatre, dating back to 1731, was preceded by a temporary wooden theatre set up for public dissections in 1551 on Giovanni Battista Canani’s request. It was located in the old school of artists at Crocette of san Domenico (the headquarters of the University from 1391 to 1567). When the University moved to Palazzo Paradiso a new theatre was built, documented since 1588 and later reconstructed as defined "angustum ac inelegans" .3

“Decretum exiit de veteri anathomiae theatro, quod angustum ac inelegansque esset, destruendo, novumque ampliorem ac elegantiorem in formam aedificando”4

(From the Municipal Decree of 25th November 1731)

Public anatomy lectures were held in the theatre until 1831, when the medical school was transferred to Sant'Anna Hospital, nowadays the most important hospital of Ferrara and its Province. They were mostly formal ceremonies which provided important opportunities to sanction the prestige of the University while the practical anatomical dissections were held at the hospital.5

A drawing of the anatomical theatre in Palazzo Paradiso, Ferrara6


Left and Right Entrance for students


The professor's desk is above the main entrance. On each side there are professors' entrances, now closed7


Main entrance


Entrances for students



It shows architectural elements between those of the Anatomical Theatre of The Archiginnasio in Bologna (1636-49) and those of the Theatre in Padua (1584), with some improvements compared to both.

The Paduan influence is recognizable in the octagonal structure, while the Bolognese inspiration can be seen in the arrangement of the wooden professor’s desk, the seats in three orders, as well as in the stairs leading to the terraces.

However, there are several innovative elements, such as the external access stairs, which allow the public to reach the benches without crossing the space dedicated to the 'anatomical function', an entrance dedicated to professors, one to the students and a smaller one to the corpses.

Moreover, the room is lit by four wide windows, two along each side. Compared to the theatre in Bologna, this place is probably more thought for medical education than for 'representation’.8

Map of the theatre9


Entrance for corpses


  • Photos and main text by Letizia Langone @ and Maria Pia di Bitonto @ (December 2017), courtesy of Biblioteca Ariostea's staff


  • Giulio Muratori, Su due insigni anatomisti del 1500 (G.B. Canani e G.Falloppio) e sul teatro anatomico di Ferrara, Rivista di Storia delle Scienze Mediche e Naturali. Vol. XXXV (VI Serie), Firenze, Gennaio-Giugno 1946, pp. 1-12
  • Giulio Muratori, Giulio Guidorizzi, Documento inedito del 1588 riguardante la costruzione del teatro anatomico stabile nell’Università di Ferrara, estratto dagli atti della III Biennale della Marca per la Storia dell’Arte Medica, Fermo, Aprile 1959, pp. 267-268


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