Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2017, ISBN: 9780198736189; 336pp.; Price: £65.00
University of Warwick
Date accessed: 28 February, 2024
Malleable Anatomies by Lucia Dacome presents the history of anatomical modelling in mid-18th-century Italy. It explores the lives of people involved in the production, consumption, and display of anatomical models, and uses their biographical histories as a lens through which to investigate the ‘lives’ of anatomical wax models as material objects, commodities, and communicators of bodily knowledge. In the book Dacome examines a multitude of interactions between medicine, religion, politics, art, and commerce on the Italian peninsula in the age of Enlightenment, as a period that brought with it a growing fascination with the body, celebrity, and travel, as well as a prominent visual and material culture. Dacome shows that it was the distinctive fusion of medicine, religion, and artisanal culture in mid-18th century Bolonga which gave birth to fashions for anatomical wax models which later spread elsewhere in Italy, and eventually throughout Europe, in the late 18th and 19th centuries.
Malleable Anatomies is precisely researched, and full of rich detail about the lives and times of anatomical models and their makers. It is also beautifully illustrated, featuring some 54 high quality colour plates of surviving wax and fabric anatomical models, including images of models of ‘nerves’ and ‘muscle’ men, dissected kidneys and eyes, and interactive midwifery models. The images also show contemporary anatomical displays and their architecture, and other visual and material evidence associated with 18th-century Italian anatomical modelling. There is also a further set of black and white images showing contemporary prints, portraits, and paintings of anatomical model makers, and the world in which they lived. The book makes original contributions to scholarship on wax and anatomical modelling, and the 18th-century Italian commercial, artisanal, and visual culture.
The main aim of Malleable Anatomies is to explore how the production, display, and consumption of anatomical models mediated and communicated various forms of knowledge about the human body. It examines the development of anatomical modelling in the context of a diverse range of material and visual practices used to represent and display the body in mid-18th century Italy. Dacome argues that ‘the meanings of mid-eighteenth century anatomical models were neither fixed nor unambiguous’. Instead, she proposes that the meanings of anatomical wax models ‘varied according to their spaces and sites of production and viewing, as well as to their different employments as pedagogical tools in medical and artistic settings, as curiosities, artworks, Grand Tour collectibles, luxury goods, cultural currencies, or home decorations’ (p. 5). Dacome demonstrates this in a multitude of ways throughout the book, but most clearly in her discussion of the various roles of women in crafting anatomical knowledge through their activities as makers and users of anatomical models. Dacome also shows, in her study of the life of Anna Morandi, how through anatomical modelling some women (and their families) were able to make celebrities of themselves alongside their art.
The methodology employed in Malleable Anatomies is rather complicated. In her introduction, Dacome explains that Malleable Anatomies employs a micro-historical approach to explore the ‘entangled lives’ of anatomical models and their makers. She writes that ‘this study adopts a micro-historical approach that closely follows threads of [anatomical models] intricate historical fabric’, and ‘privileges an in-depth investigation of smaller units of analysis to retrieve the voices, domains of experience, and social relations that accompanied the creation and early use of mid-eighteenth century anatomical displays’ (p. 21). Dacome explains that as part of her micro-historical approach she also applies a biographical lens through which she explores the ‘lives’ of both anatomical models and their makers. She proposes this approach creates a ‘a special point of entry into the specific conditions that determined these objects’ capacity to create and convey knowledge’ (pp. 21–2). What this means in practice is that each book chapter explores an aspect of the biographical history of a character in the world of Italian wax modelling, using this as a ‘micro-historical’ lens to examine the meanings attached to their production, display, and consumption, in different contexts in Italy, and within the context of the European Grand Tour.
The methodological approach of Malleable Anatomies offers some interesting insights into how the social, cultural, medical, professional, and religious worlds of 18th-century anatomical modellers were intertwined. It also provides a detailed biography of interesting figures involved the commission, making, and display of anatomical models, including: Prospero Lambertini, Erole Lelli, Anna Morandi, Giovanni Manzolini, Giovanni Anatoni Galli, Girolamo Ranuzzi and Raimondo di Sangro. It also offers insights into the individual motivations of these social actors, in commissioning, making, purchasing, using, and displaying, anatomical models.
Yet, overall the methodology has the problematic tendency to obscure the broader arguments of the book, and the history of the anatomical models themselves. Indeed, throughout the book the primary focus of the analysis shifts back-and-forth from anatomical models to their commissioners, makers, and consumers, and this sometimes causes arguments to become convoluted. Secondly, although in the book’s introduction anatomical models are presented as the work’s ‘main protagonists’ - with Dacome making extensive reference to Arjun Appaduari’s Social Lives of Things - the narrative of Malleable Anatomies tends to privilege the story of the ‘lives’ of the anatomical model makers over the ‘lives’ of their models.(1) Thirdly, broader issues concerning the role of anatomical models in knowledge production often got lost as a result of the micro-historical organisation of chapters and their focus on individual biography. It might have been useful for Dacome to explore some of these bigger issues in the conclusion, and this could have helped her establish the wider significance of the themes that emerged across the different chapters. In the conclusion, Dacome could have also more effectively highlighted the book’s main contributions, and how the themes raised in the book extend the existing historiography. Discussion of the legacy of Italian anatomical wax modelling in Europe in the 19th century, might have also been usefully commented upon in the conclusion. Fourthly, the methodology employed in Malleable Anatomies makes it ‘hard to use’ as a researcher. This is because the micro-historical biographical approach makes it difficult to ‘dip into’ individual chapters to extract main points/arguments, as such information comes tightly wrapped or intertwined with detail about the life of the person (or persons) through which the theme explored in the chapter is investigated. Connected to this, many of the chapters rely very heavily on discussion which is presented in the chapters that proceeded it, and not necessarily in direct order. This means that to fully grasp the books main argument the reader must read the book in order, cover-to-cover, and preferably as quickly as possible, so to make sure they retain the information discerned from earlier chapters.
For its research material, Malleable Anatomies draws upon a range of evidence, including surviving anatomical models, as well as the body parts that were incorporated into these models and displayed alongside them. It also utilises a wide range of visual and printed material evidence including, paintings, maps, architectural drawings, anatomical drawings, etchings, and prints. By far the largest body of sources, however, comes from archival materials which related to the lives of people involved in the production of anatomical models. These sources include, personal diaries, letters, correspondence, memoirs, record books, and account books. This evidence is supplemented by analysis of a range of printed materials such as, anatomical and medical texts, and art and travel literature.
The chapters in Malleable Anatomies are organised chronologically and geographically. Chapters one to six examine the activities of the commissioners, makers, viewers, and users of anatomical models in Bolonga, whilst chapter seven looks at how anatomical models were displayed, and their sale and purchase, in Naples and Palermo.
Chapter one explores the relationship between anatomy and Catholicism, examining Propspero Lambertini’s (later Pope Benedict XIV), impetus for patronising anatomical modelling in Bolonga. Dacome links Lambertini’s anatomical interest to his desire for anatomy to be used in the identification of signs of holy embodiment. Clearly demonstrated in this chapter is the centrality of the church in Italy in promoting Enlightened bio-medical research, and the connections between religion and medicine in Italy during this period.
Chapter two, through examination of the career of the artisan Ercole Lelli, looks at the connections between anatomy and the world of artists, antiquarians, artisans, and craftsmen. This chapter makes some convincing arguments about how the anatomy room functioned as a site for training the eyes in ‘enlightened’ ways of looking, and the parallels between the way anatomical models, and other statues and figures, were displayed in this period. In this chapter Dacome also discusses how and why Lelli became an anatomical celebrity in the context of the Grand Tour, and the reasons why Anatomical Room at the Institute of the Sciences in Bologna became a key site to visit for ‘foreign’ visitors.
Chapter three focuses on the commercialisation of anatomical models through analysis of the activities of the anatomical modelling, husband and wife team, Anna Morandi and Giovanni Manzolini. This chapter also plays with the idea of the ‘fabric’ of anatomical models, exploring the meanings of domesticity and femininity that were taken on and conveyed by the anatomical models that Morandi and Manzolini displayed in their home, as a ‘complex, multi-functional, and porous space of production, presentation, consumption, and commercialisation of anatomical knowledge, which served both private and public functions’ (p. 95).
In chapter four, Dacome once again follows the life of Anna Morandi, this time examining her activities after the death of her husband and using this as a lens to analyse the issues faced by unmarried women in the commercial world. Explored in this chapter are broader issues about the use of wax in devotional practices and rituals, and how as a medium was used to explore the relationship between the religious, artistic, medical and magical domains. This chapter raised some of the most intriguing questions in the book about wax’s use in exploring early modern boundaries between the inner and outer body, the natural and supernatural world, and the porosity of the body. Yet, at the same time this was the least fully realised of Malleable Anatomies chapters. This was because much of what was discussed (especially the relationship between wax and devotion) necessitated consideration beyond gender and the activities of Anna Morandi; the two central analytical prisms of the chapter.
Chapter five, ‘Blinding the midwives’, is the stand out chapter of the book. It examines the collection of midwifery models collected by the man-midwife Giovanni Antomio Galli, and how they were used and incorporated into midwifery training. Dacome shows how midwifery models addressed uncertainties around generation and midwifery by translating ‘midwives’ tacit and gestural knowledge into a demonstrative regime of learning that was still non-verbal and yet could be publically communicated’ (p. 167). This chapter also shows how cultural ideas and practices around childbirth brought themselves to bare on the fabric of anatomical midwifery models, and how these models altered birthing practices. In the processes it also reveals how in the realm of midwifery, anatomical models redefined the relationship between skill, knowledge, and expertise.
In chapter six, ‘Transferring value’, Dacome explores how anatomical displays were involved in the transfer of medical and cultural knowledge, and commercial trade networks. As its analytical focus, this chapter returns to the life of Anna Morandi (also addressed in chapters three and four). This time Dacome focuses on the later period of Morandi’s life, and the ways Morandi and her descendants (after her death) used her collections to promote her celebrity for their own social and commercial ends. The chapter also examines how the Bolognese nobleman Girolamo Ranuzzi, who purchased Morandi’s collection in 1769 to use it to promote his own commercial pharmaceutical and spa ventures.
Finally, in chapter seven, Dacome picks up on some of the themes raised in chapter six, and continues her analysis of anatomical models as ‘cultural currencies that had the capital to transfer value’ (p. 216). The focus in this chapter is on wax anatomical injections: anatomical preparations where wax was injected into the veins and vessels to visualise their bodily dissemination. Dacome explores the history of these preparations through analysis of the sale and purchase of anatomical ‘skeleton’s’ which originally belonged to the Palermitan anatomist and priest Giuseppe Salerno. This chapter makes an important scholarly contribution in providing a detailed examination of wax anatomical injections, as a subject which has been neglected in historical scholarship to date. However, this chapter feels a bit at odds with the book’s other chapters, as the only one that focuses primarily on a region other than Bologna (it focuses on Naples). There is also an argument that wax anatomical injections are better defined as anatomical preparations rather than ‘models’.
Malleable Anatomies provides an intricate history of the ‘diversified’ world of mid-18th century Italian anatomy. In many ways the book is a thing of great beauty. It is rich in details that can only be the product of years of meticulous archival research, and it is wonderfully illustrated. The analysis in the individual chapters is also woven together with great skill. Yet, the same things that make this book a ‘beautiful’ history make it a book that is challenging to work ‘with’ as a text about anatomical modelling. Indeed, readers of this book will have to concentrate to identify the book’s key points and arguments about the role of anatomical models in the production of bodily knowledge in 18th-century Italy. That said, by and large, the effort is worth it, and this book is full of interesting insights and perspectives.
From the author I would welcome further comments on the book’s key and original insights, both in terms of its contribution to the existing scholarship, and the broader themes and issues it raises about the history of anatomical modelling in Italy and Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. I would also welcome comments from the author on the following questions raised by the book: What are the distinct methodological issues and benefits involved with using wax anatomical models as source material for historians? What was the broader culture of wax modelling in early modern Europe (especially figurative modelling), and how did anatomical models figure as part of this? In what ways did wax anatomical models change and/or alter understandings of the body and its boundaries? Were wax models viewed differently to other figurative and bodily models made of other materials, especially religious effigies?
- The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Perspective, ed. A. Appadurai (Cambridge, 1986).Back to (1)
18th-century anatomical models enjoy to this day an impressive visual power. Malleable Anatomies explores the history of the entangled social and material relations that lay behind this power. One of its aims is to study how anatomical models inscribed knowledge and shaped communities. I would like to thank Dr. Kathryn Woods for her thorough reading of the book. It is a rare privilege to receive such close attention and I am grateful for Woods’ time and effort. In what follows, I will focus on some of the reasons that led me to adopt a certain angle of historical observation and discuss some of its implications and advantages. It goes without saying that the stories that may be told about the objects considered in this study are manifold and could rely on approaches and directions that are different from the ones adopted here.
As mentioned by Woods, this book reconstructs the early stages of the practice of anatomical modelling by considering the specimens presented in several anatomical displays that were created in Bologna, Naples and Palermo during the mid-18th century. These displays were completed before the better-known anatomical collection at the Royal Museum of Physics and Natural History opened in Florence in 1775 and became a fundamental point of reference for the practice of anatomical modelling. Like the Florentine collection, the anatomical displays discussed in Malleable Anatomies were widely appreciated and rapidly regarded as capable of generating and mediating bodily knowledge to different audiences, including lay viewers, students, artists, and practitioners. In recent years, one of their makers, the celebrated anatomical modeller Anna Morandi Manzolini, has attracted increasing scholarly interest. But otherwise these early stages have received comparatively less attention. Yet, this early history of anatomical modelling is important because it sheds light on the emergence and development of a practice that placed objects at the centre of processes of knowledge production and fashioned them as special sites for the investigation of the human body.
Malleable Anatomies focuses on this fluid, transitional moment during which anatomical modelling was codified as a source of knowledge. It argues that anatomical models were expression of the interweaving of social, cultural, medical, and political threads. Thus, this is a project about the social lives of objects as much as it is about bodies and knowledge. It deals with questions such as: how did these objects inscribe and mediate bodily knowledge? What should we make of the fact that they were so rapidly regarded as sources of anatomical learning? What are the implications of reconstructing their stories? And how do history and history writing look like if we place objects and their social lives at the centre of our historical investigations?
Objects object, as it has been noticed. They resist. Yet, they are physically, socially, and culturally on the move. They are intrinsically malleable and have a transformative capacity to create, embody, and convey different meanings. This was certainly the case for mid-18th-century anatomical specimens. As material visualizations of the human body, they were in flux. They were produced at the crossroads of certain social, cultural, religious, and political as well as medical settings, and drew on a variety of visual, material, social, and rhetorical repertoires. They moved across spaces, had manifold uses, served different purposes, and codified, transformed and mediated a multiplicity of messages. At the same time, they became a primary expression of anatomy’s aspiration to advance claims of universality and were characterized as privileged points of entry into ‘the nature’ of human nature. In order to reconstruct how these fluid and malleable objects became special sites of bodily knowledge, Malleable Anatomies adopts a particular point of historical observation to trace their shifting meanings and social, material, and cultural transformations. Accordingly, the book highlights the importance of locality in knowledge-making processes while turning anatomical specimens’ claims of universality into the object of historical scrutiny. Thus, it is beyond the scope of this work to consider the broader history of anatomical models in Italy and Europe over the 18th and 19th centuries. Likewise, this study does not attempt to trace the impact of 18th-century anatomical modelling on 19th-century anatomical practices. Rather, drawing attention to the local character of the practice of anatomical modelling, it interrogates the very assumption that we could talk about anatomical specimens in general and across different periods.
The adoption of a microhistorical lens has been instrumental to this undertaking and has made it possible to trace how the anatomical specimens considered in this work were created at the crossroads of social, cultural, and political as well as medical circumstances. In order to reconstruct the processes of translation and negotiation that informed the fashioning of these specimens as sites of bodily knowledge, Malleable Anatomies follows their lives, from the time they were first envisioned as useful tools of knowledge to the period in which they started to fall short of their epistemological promise and began their descent into obsolescence. In particular, the book examines the different worlds that anatomical specimens inhabited, reconstructs the physical and social spaces in which they were situated, and explores the visual, material, and cultural repertoires in which they were embedded. It considers the labour and artisanal skills that went into their making and traces the networks of social relations in which they were enmeshed. It furthermore investigates how, in mid-18th-century Italy, anatomical models brought questions about bodies, materiality, visualization, knowledge, gender, and power to bear upon each other.
Thanks to its reduced scale of analysis and its anthropological vocation, microhistory has provided a felicitous methodological apparatus to explore anatomical models’ material articulations and fluid biographical trajectories. It has offered a particularly appropriate template to interrogate received assumptions and generalizations about anatomical models and follow the threads of unexpected situations and connections that would have otherwise remained opaque. Moreover, it has made it possible to trace the specific settings and contingencies that characterized the lives of these objects and reconstruct the details of their layered and shifting meanings in a way that could be sensitive to issues of historicity. One of the challenges posed by the study of anatomical models is that they address our senses, engage us in affective relations, and intrigue us in ways that transcend their historical dimension. Undoubtedly, these are also some of the factors that make anatomical models so intriguing and the object of growing interest. But questions arise when it comes to reconstructing their histories: How can we turn their visual power into the object of historical investigation? How can we navigate their past while maintaining an adequate historical perspective? And how can we make non-verbal sources speak in a way that is sensitive to their specific socio-historical contingencies? Addressing these questions has required considering and cross-referencing a large and diverse body of primary sources in order to recover the details of anatomical models’ webs of relations. Such an approach has the advantage of shedding new light on familiar historical territories.
A notable example concerns the common classification of 18th-century natural and anatomical knowledge under the rubric of ‘Enlightenment’. I have intentionally and carefully avoided framing the object of this study in terms of ‘the Enlightenment’. In the main text, the word ‘Enlightenment’ is only mentioned to distinguish this work from a body of literature that has construed pope Benedict XIV’s patronage of natural inquiry and anatomical modelling as a reflection of his support for the Enlightenment. Malleable Anatomies highlights the centrality of papal initiative in the patronage of mid-18th-century anatomical modelling in Bologna. However, it does not frame this patronage in terms of the Enlightenment and distances itself from the literature that portrays Benedict XIV as ‘the Enlightenment pope’. It suggests that in order to understand the centrality of papal initiative in the early history of anatomical modelling, we need to steer clear of categories such as ‘the Enlightenment’ and ‘the Enlightenment pope’ and rather consider the role of anatomy in the history of saint-making processes. Accordingly, this study argues that pope Benedict XIV’s patronage of anatomical modelling is not about the Enlightenment and should be situated in the context of his lifelong involvement in the definition of the criteria of saint-making instead. Likewise, it suggests that supporting the production and public display of anatomical specimens played a part in the papal effort to define parameters of authenticity in a way that could help to grant and maintain papal authority. This shift in perspective is meant to cast light on the role of anatomical specimens in the triangulation of power, knowledge, and authority rather than in the context of the genealogies of progress inscribed into narratives of the Enlightenment. It also allows us to appreciate how 18th-century medical and natural knowledge could serve different purposes, including religious ones, and could be understood in ways that dispense with the notion of the Enlightenment.
The point here is not to embark in a full-fledged war against the Enlightenment, which would be beyond the scope of this study, but to see what happens when we bracket this category in our historical understandings of 18th-century engagements with the natural world. If we take this stance, the advantages of adopting a microhistorical lens are manifold. For one thing, through close reconstruction of localities and specific settings we can appreciate the variety of purposes and uses that characterized 18th-century natural inquiries and medical pursuits, and accordingly question the baggage of expectations customarily associated with ‘the age of the Enlightenment’. For another, this shift in perspective challenges common assumptions about received historiographic categories and periodizations, and encourages us to turn these assumptions into the object of scrutiny and investigation. In Chapter 1, for instance, bracketing the category of ‘Enlightenment’ allows us to reconstruct how promoting anatomical displays was functional to the authentication of sanctity and, by implication, to the integrity and authority of an institution like the post-Tridentine Roman Catholic Church, which had a vested interest in securing the reliability of saint-making procedures. This shift in perspective offers the opportunity to reconstruct how a particular convergence of religious and anatomical pursuits led to the re-interpretation of forms of material evidence and informed views of normativity, notions of authenticity, and material and visual practices that became integral to medical and natural knowledge. In general, the effort to articulate the layered complexity of anatomical specimens beyond traditional narratives of the Enlightenment can help us to shed new light on the history of 18th-century natural inquiries and medical pursuits and their social and political implications.
Another related example regarding the advantages of adopting such a methodological approach concerns the relationships between religious practices and anatomical displays, in general, and between rituals of adoration of relics and other devotional objects and knowledge practices related to the viewing and handling of anatomical specimens, in particular. To what extent did techniques, conventions, styles, rhetorical motifs, practices, and modes of making and viewing travel across these domains? A close look at the social life of anatomical objects shows that there is no obvious answer to this question. Reconstructing these objects’ biographies highlights patterns of continuity and discontinuity between devotional and anatomical realms with regard to the spaces and practices of display, the framing of observation and contemplation, and the centrality of the senses and affects in the engagement with the material world. It also reveals that, notwithstanding the conspicuous investment in demarcating efforts, boundaries continued to be permeable and, in many ways, ambiguous. While Chapter 4 is specifically dedicated to navigating these uncertain boundaries, this is also a recurring theme that traverses the whole book. In general, reconstructing the social lives of things through a microhistorical lens shows that objects’ biographical trajectories do not have a linear development and are rather intrinsically woven into multiple and porous webs of meanings and social relations. Capturing this complexity requires following the threads of these layered and fluid historical entities. Such an approach is bound to raise methodological questions when it comes to narrative: how can we make objects talk in a manner that could account for their entangled existences and curate their histories in ways that could do justice to their complexity and historicity while still remaining legible?
In order to address these questions, I have looked for a narrative structure that could account for the layered plasticity of anatomical objects (their malleability, fluidity, and open-endedness) and allow readers to see how the different aspects of the story were connected and intertwined. My goal was to ensure that although each chapter focused on a specific case study, it would remain in dialogue with perspectives and points of discussion raised elsewhere, thus allowing readers to access the story through different angles and follow different threads. It looked like a daunting prospect. Yet, some of the very themes of the book came to my succour. In particular, the worlds of textiles and needlework, which both materially and metaphorically pervaded 18th-century views of the human body, ended up speaking to the broader architecture of this work. Anatomical models were part of materially, socially, culturally, and politically interwoven histories of humans and non-humans. They were social fabrics in their own right. In order to reconstruct their biographies, I have looked for a storytelling strategy that could, as it were, weave the methodological and analytical framework of this study into its narrative fabric. Such an approach was bound to face challenges. One of them was of course the availability of sources. We are particularly fortunate that the majority of the anatomical specimens considered in this study have survived to this day. But the paper trail they have left behind is regretfully thin. In many cases, even the information on how these specimens were made is limited and largely derivative. As a consequence, telling their stories necessitates adopting a special angle of historical observation and focusing on their entangled webs of social relations. Reconstructing how the lives of makers, users, patrons and collectors were affected by anatomical specimens has provided a useful vantage point to trace these objects’ own biographical trajectories.
The final chapter of the book follows some of these threads beyond Bologna, down south along the Italian peninsula to Naples and Sicily. It begins with the story of a model that was produced in mid-18th-century Palermo and was headed to Bologna, but did not arrive at its destination because it was purchased along the way in Naples. By focusing on this object and the anatomical display of which it became a part, this chapter complements the previous chapters by casting further light on how locality played an important part in shaping the biographical trajectories of anatomical models. Shifting attention from the papal states to the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, it expands the study of how anatomical models were deeply entrenched in specific political geographies. In doing so, this chapter introduces an element of comparison that both illuminates facets of the story that were common to the different sites of anatomical modelling and display, and highlights aspects that were specific to each location. These include the social and geopolitical dynamics informing the production and use of anatomical specimens and their shifting values as well as the relationship between locality and claims of universality, religion and medical knowledge, the natural and the artificial, and the authentic and the inauthentic. Chapter 7 also extends the investigation of the early stages of anatomical modelling beyond a setting dominated by papal patronage. It examines the role of anatomical specimens that moved from the Palermitan medical world to the Neapolitan context of private collecting, thus casting further light on these objects’ multiple uses and meanings. Moreover, it offers the opportunity to introduce a comparative perspective on the relationship between wax-modelling and other forms of production of anatomical specimens vis-à-vis notions of the natural and the artificial, and the authentic and the inauthentic. Dubbed ‘anatomical machines’, the specimens at the centre of this chapter were presented as the result of anatomical injection. In the mid-18th century, specimens obtained through anatomical injections enjoyed a special status because they were regarded as a quintessential expression of nature unveiling itself in front of the beholder’s eyes. However, although the anatomical machines were presented as the result of anatomical injection, their manufacturing remained ambiguous. In this sense, their story invites us to consider how the boundaries between the natural and the artificial were locally defined and, in this particular setting, continued to be fluid well into the 18th century. It shows that, in mid-18th-century Naples, presenting the anatomical machines as the result of injection – and, therefore, as the ultimate anatomical specimen – was itself the expression of an artifice. The book seeks to address and articulate this ambiguity, and this is reflected in the choice of terminology.
To conclude, one could say that mid-18th-century anatomical specimens provide a particularly felicitous point of entry into the historical understanding of material flows and frictions. Malleable Anatomies adopts a microhistorical lens and an anthropological stance in order to reconstruct their entangled lives and explore their role in historical considerations of bodies, knowledge, and power. Following these objects and reconstructing their social lives has led me to take unanticipated turns and revisit historical territories that I took to be familiar. Perhaps, most importantly, it has taught me that attending to things can open up the way to novel perspectives on history writing. I think I can leave it there and once again thank Kathryn Woods and Reviews in History for the opportunity to share some more thoughts on Malleable Anatomies and continue the conversation.