Various generations of the Medici family had passionately collected, besides great artistic treasures, also a considerable amount of natural treasures such as fossils, animals, minerals and exotic plants. On the basis of this material as well as through the acquisition of new items of all sorts, including an enormous collection of books brought from all over Europe, the “enlightened” Pietro Leopoldo of Lorena, with the help of the abbot Felice Fontana (1730-1805), decided to create a Museum of Natural History for the people. To this aim he purchased, in 1771, the block of buildings near Palazzo Pitti which still houses today, even with significant modifications, “La Specola”, which was officially inaugurated in 1775 and remained, until the beginning of the 19th century, the only scientific museum in the world created for the public.
The history of its collections is overly complicated mainly because of the transfer to other museums or Universities of items of anthropological, botanical and paleontological nature as well as of equipment used in physics, chemistry and astronomy, which took place between 1870 and 1930. Currently the public is admitted in 34 rooms, of which 24 are devoted to zoology and 10 to the wax models. In the zoological section, specimen of recent acquisition are exhibited with those of old taxidermy, such as the hippopotamus which, having been donated, as it seems, to the Grand Duke in the second half of the 18th century, lived for some years in the Boboli gardens. Special pride of the Museum is the collection of anatomical wax models, valuable evidence of an art that in Florence was practically begun by Ludovico Cigoli (1559-1613), and which had its moment of maximum splendour and technical-scientific accuracy in the 1700s.
The best representative of Florentine wax modelling art was Clemente Susini (1754-1814) who is the author of the most important pieces in the collection, which were created in the workshop founded for that purpose inside the Museum (inoperative for about a century). Within the wax models exhibition, we draw attention to the pieces by Gaetano Zumbo (1656-1701), of great artistic, apart from anatomic, value. Inside the Museum there is also a very special room: the so-called “Tribuna di Galileo”, designed and built in 1841 by architect Giuseppe Martelli as a tribute to the memory of the great Tuscan scientist and to contain some of his instruments together with those from Accademia del Cimento (this materials are kept today in the History and Science Museum). The room is decorated with frescoes and carved and engraved marble pieces illustrating some of the most important discoveries made by Italian scientists since the Renaissance.
La Specola Zoological Museum
Via Romana 17 - Firenze
Ph: +39 055 228 8251
Source: Florence APT