Hostname: page-component-594f858ff7-wfvfs Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-06-09T07:45:17.071Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "corePageComponentUseShareaholicInsteadOfAddThis": true, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

The Criminal and the Saintly Body: Autopsy and Dissection in Renaissance Italy*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

Katharine Park*
Wellesley College


On the 17th of August 1308 Chiara of Montefalco died in the small Umbrian monastery of which she had been the abbess. Her fellow nuns did not take any steps to preserve her body. Nonetheless, for five days it remained uncorrupted and redolent of the odor of sanctity, despite the blazing summer heat. At that point— not wanting to tempt fate further—the community decided to embalm the precious relic. In the words of Sister Francesca of Montefalco, testifying some years later at Chiara's unsuccessful canonization procedure, “They agreed that [her] body should be preserved on account of her holiness and because God took such pleasure in her body and her heart.” They sent to the town apothecary for “balsam and myrrh and other preservatives,” as the apothecary himself testified, and they proceeded to the next step in contemporary embalming practice, which was evisceration.

Copyright © Renaissance Society of America 1994

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



This article was initially presented as a paper at the New England Renaissance Conference in 1990. I am grateful to Caroline Bynum and Joan Cadden for criticism and comments on earlier drafts.


Alston, Mary Niven. “The Attitude of the Church toward Dissection before 1500.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 16 (1944): 221-38.Google Scholar
Ariès, Philippe. The Hour of our Death. Trans. Weaver, Helen. New York, 1981.Google Scholar
Artelt, Walter. “Die ältesten Nachrichten fiber die Sektion menschlicher Leichen im mittelalterlichen Abenland.” Abhandlungen zur Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften, 11. 34 (1940).Google Scholar
Barker, Francis. “Into the Vault.” In his The Tremulous Private Body: Essays on Subjectivity, 72-112. London, 1984.Google Scholar
da Montagnana, Bartolomeo. Consilia Montagnane. Lyon, 1525.Google Scholar
Benedetti, Alessandro. Anatomice, sive historia corporis humani. Paris, 1514.Google Scholar
Benivieni, Antonio. De abditis nonnullis ac mirandis morborum et sanitationum causis. In L'inizio dell'anatomia patologica nel Quattrocento fiorentino,suitestidi Antonio Benivieni,Google Scholar
Torni, Bernardo, Leonardo da Vinci, ed. Costa, A. and Weber, G., 523-677. Florence, 1952.Google Scholar
Torni, Bernardo. De abditis nonnullis ac mirandis morborum et sanationum causis. Ed. and trans. Charles Singer and Long, Edmond R.. Springfield, IL, 1954.Google Scholar
Berengario da Carpi, Jacopo. Commentaria cum amplissimis additionibus super anatomia Mundini. Bologna, 1521.Google Scholar
Berengario da Carpi, Jacopo. Isagogae breves perlucidae ac uberrimae in anatomiam humani corporis. Bologna, 1523.Google Scholar
Berengario da Carpi, Jacopo. On Fracture of the Skull or Cranium. Trans. Lind, L.R.. Philadelphia, 1990.Google Scholar
Berengario da Carpi, Jacopo. A Short Introduction to Anatomy (hagogae Breves). Trans. Lind, L.R.. Chicago, 1959.Google Scholar
Bertapaglia, Leonardo. Recollectae habitae super quarto Avicennae. In Guy de Chauliac, Ars chirurgica, fols. 261V-302. Venice, 1546.Google Scholar
Biaggi, C. “Gli studi anatomici all'Ospedale Maggiore nel secolo XV: Leonardo a Milano.” Ospedale Maggiore 44 (1956): 405-10.Google Scholar
Brown, Elizabeth A. R. “Death and the Human Body in the Later Middle Ages: The Legislation of Boniface VIII on the Division of the Corpse,” Viator 12 (1981): 221-70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Busacchi, Vincenzo. “Necroscopie trecentesche a scopo anatomo-patologico in Perugia. ” Rivista di storia delta medicina 9 (1965): 160-63.Google Scholar
Bynum, Caroline Walker. “Bodily Miracles and the Resurrection of the Body in the High Middle Ages.” In Belief in History: Approaches to European and American Religion, ed. Thomas Kselman, 68-106. Notre Dame, 1991.Google Scholar
Bynum, Caroline Walker. “Material Continuity, Personal Survival and the Resurrection of the Body: A Scholastic Discourse in its Medieval and Modern Contexts.” In her Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion, 239-97. New York, 1991.Google Scholar
Bynum, Caroline Walker. “The Female Body and Religious Practice in the Later Middle Ages.” In Zone: Fragments for a History of the Body, ed. Feher, Michel et al., Part I, 161-219. New York, 1989.Google Scholar
Camporesi, Piero. The Incorruptible Flesh: Bodily Mutation and Mortification in Religion and Folklore. Trans. Tania Croft-Murray and Helen Elsom. Cambridge, 1988.Google Scholar
Carroll, Margaret. “The Erotics of Absolutism and the Mystification of Sexual Violence.” Representations 25 (1989): 3-30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Castan, Philippe. Naissance de la dissection anatomique: Deux siècles à I'apogée du Moyen-Age, autour d'Henri de Mondeville et Gui de Chauliac. Montpellier, 1985.Google Scholar
Catherine of Siena, . Lettere di Santa Caterina. Ed. Niccolò Tommaseo. Rome, 1973.Google Scholar
Cecchetti, B. “Funerali e sepulture dei veneziani antichi.” Archivio veneto, ser. 1, 34 (1887): 265-84.Google Scholar
Chiffoleau, Jacques. La comptabilite’ de I'audelà: Les hommes, la mort et la religion dans la region d'Avignon à la fin du Moyen Age (vers 1320-vers 1480). Rome, 1980.Google Scholar
Ciasca, Raffaele, L'arte dei medici e speziali nella storia e nel commercio fiorentino dal secolo XII al XV. Florence, 1927.Google Scholar
Cohn, Samuel K., Jr. Death and Property in Siena, 1205-1800: Strategies for the Afterlife. Baltimore, 1988.Google Scholar
Colombo, Realdo. De re anatomica libri XV. Venice, 1559.Google Scholar
Dall'Osso, Eugenio. L'organizzazione medico- legate a Bologna e a Venezia nei secoli XII-XIV. Cesena, 1956.Google Scholar
Diepgen, Paul. “Über Leicheneinbalsamierung im Mittelalter.” Janus 26 (1922): 91-4.Google Scholar
Digard, Georges, et al., eds. Les registres de Boniface VIII. 3 vols. Paris, 1907-21.Google Scholar
Duparc, Pierre. “Dilaceratio corporis.” Bulletin de la société nationale des antiquaires de France (1981): 360-72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Edgerton, Samuel Y., Jr. Pictures and Punishment: Art and Criminal Prosecution during the Florentine Renaissance. Ithaca, NY, 1985.Google Scholar
Facciolati, Jacopo. Fasti gymnasii Patavini. 2 vols. Padua, 1757.Google Scholar
Falloppia, Gabriele. Opera omnia. 2 vols, and app. Frankfurt, 1600.06.Google Scholar
Ferrari, Giovanna. “Public Anatomy Lessons and the Carnival: The Anatomy Theater of Bologna.” Past and Present 117 (1987): 50-106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Finucane, R.C. “Sacred Corpse, Profane Carrion: Social Ideals and Death Rituals in the Later Middle Ages.” In Mirrors of Mortality: Studies in the Social History of Death, ed. Joachim Whaley, ch. 2. New York, 1982.Google Scholar
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York, 1977.Google Scholar
Frati, Lodovico. La vita privata di Bologna dal secolo XIII al XVII. Bologna, 1900.Google Scholar
French, Roger K. “Berengario da Carpi and the Use of Commentary in Anatomical Teaching.” In The Medical Renaissance of the Sixteenth Century, ed. Andrew Wear et al., 42-74. Cambridge, 1985.Google Scholar
French, Roger K. “A Note on the Anatomical Accessus of the Middle Ages.” Medical History 23 (1979): 461-68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gherardi, Alessandro, ed. Statutidella università e studio fiorentino dal anno 1387 [Florentine style], seguiti da un'appendice di documentidal 1320 al 1472. Florence, 1881.Google Scholar
Giacosa, Piero. Magistri salemitani nondum editi: Catalogo ragionato delta esposizione di storia delta medicina aperta in Torino nel 1898. Turin, 1901.Google Scholar
Grabner, Elfriede. “Der Mensch als Arznei: Alpenländische Belege aus einem Kärtner Schauermarlein.” In Festgabe für Oskar Moser: Beiträge zur Volkskunde Kärntens, 81-95. Klagenfurt, 1974.Google Scholar
Harcourt, Glenn. “Andreas Vesalius and the Anatomy of Antique Sculpture.” Representations 17 (1986): 28-61.Google Scholar
Heckscher, William S. Rembrandt's Anatomy of Dr. Nicolaas Tulp: An Iconological Study. New York, 1958.Google Scholar
da Varagine, Jacopo. Leggenda aurea. Ed. Arrigo Levasri. 3 vols. Florence, 1924.Google Scholar
Kemp, Martin. Leonardo da Vinci: The Marvellous Works of Nature and Man. Cambridge, MA, 1981.Google Scholar
Landucci, Luca. Diario fiorentino dal 1450 al 1516. Ed. Iodoco del Badia. Florence, 1883.Google Scholar
Leonardi, Claudio, and Enrico Menesto, ed., S. Chiara da Montefalco e it suo tempo. Perugia, 1985.Google Scholar
Lind, Levi Robert. Studies in Pre-Vesalian Anatomy: Biography, Translations, Documents. Philadelphia, 1974.Google Scholar
Linebaugh, Peter. “The Tyburn Riot against the Surgeons.” In Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth-Century England, ed. Hay, Douglas et al., 65-117. London, 1975.Google Scholar
MacKinney, Loren. Medical Illustrations in Medieval Manuscripts. London, 1965.Google Scholar
Malagola, Carlo, ed. Statuti delte università e dei collegi dello Studio bolognese. Bologna, 1888.Google Scholar
Martinotti, G. “L'insegnamento dell'anatomia in Bologna prima del secolo XIX.” Studi e memorieper la storia dell'universita di Bologna 2 (1911): 3-146.Google Scholar
Massa, Niccolò. Liber introductorius anatomiae, sive dissectionis corporis humani. Venice, 1536.Google Scholar
Menestò, Enrico, ed., with Silvestro Nessi. Il processo di canonizzazione di Chiara da Montefalco. Scandicci (Florence), 1984.Google Scholar
Monachino, Vincenzo, Mariano da Alatri, and Isidoro da Villapadierna. La cariti cristiana in Roma. Bologna, 1968.Google Scholar
Mondino de’, Liuzzi. Anothomia. Pavia, 1478. Facsimile edition in Wickersheimer (below), [ 7H50 ].Google Scholar
Nardi, M. G. “Statuti e documenti riflettenti la dissezione anatomica umana e la nomina di alcuni lettori di medicina nell'antico 'studium generale’ fiorentino.” Rivista di storia delle scienze medkhe e naturali 47 (1956): 237-49.Google Scholar
O'Malley, C. D. Andreas Vesalius of Brussels, 1514-1564. Berkeley, 1964.Google Scholar
O'Neill, Ynez Violé “Innocent III and the Evolution of Anatomy.” Medical History 20 (1976): 429-33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ongaro, Giuseppe. “La medicina nello studio di Padova e nel Veneto.” In Storia delta cultura veneta, ed. Arnaldi, Girolamo et al., vol. 3/3, 75-134. Vicenza, 1981.Google Scholar
Ortalli, Edgardo. “La perizia medica a Bologna nei secoli XIII e XIV: normativa e pratica di un istituto giudiziario.” Atti e memorie delta Deputazione di storia patria per le province di Romagna, n.s., 17-19 (1965/66-1967/68): 223-59.Google Scholar
Paglia, Vincenzo. La morte confortata; riti della paura e mentalità religiosa a Roma nell'età tnodema. Rome, 1982.Google Scholar
Paravicini Bagliani, Agostino. “Storia della srienza e storia della mentalità: Ruggero Bacone, Bonifacio VIII e la teoria della 'prolongatio vitae*.” In Aspetti della letteratura latina nelsecolo XII: Attidelprimo convegno intemazionale di studi dell'Associazioneper il Medioevo e I'Umanesimo latini, ed. Claudio Leonardi and Giovanni Orlandi, 243-80. Perugia/Florence, 1986.Google Scholar
Paravicini Bagliani, Agostino. “The Life of the Corpse: Divison and Dissection in Late Medieval Europe.” Journal of the History of Medicine and Applied Sciences. Forthcoming.Google Scholar
Paravicini Bagliani, Agostino. “Healing the Poor: Hospitals and Medical Assistance in Renaissance Florence.” In Medicine and Charity before the Welfare State, ed. Barry, Jonathan and Jones, Colin, 26-45. London, 1991.Google Scholar
Park, Katharine. Doctors and Medicine in Early Renaissance Florence. Princeton, 1985.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pazzini, Adalberto. “Leonardo da Vinci e l'esercizio dell'anatomia in Roma.” Sudhoffs Archiv 37 (1953): 329-37.Google Scholar
Pertile, Antonio. Storia del diritto italiano dalla caduta dell'impero romano alia codificazione. 2ded. Vol. 5. Turin, 1892.Google Scholar
Pietro, d'Abano. De venenis. Mantua, 1473.Google Scholar
Pouchelle, Marie-Christine, The Body and Surgery in the Middle Ages. Trans. Rosemary Morris. New Brunswick, NJ, 1990.Google Scholar
Pietro, d'Abano. De venenis. “La prise en charge de la mort: Medecine, médecins et chirurgiens devant les problèmes liés à la mort à la fin du Moyen Age (XIIIe-XVe siecles).” Archives europiénncs de sociologie 17 (1976): 249-78.Google Scholar
Pietro, d'Abano. De venenis. “Représentations du corps dans la Légende Dorée.” Ethnologie française 6 (1976): 293-308.Google Scholar
Premuda, Loris, and Giuseppe Ongaro. “I primordi della dissezione anatomica in Pado va,” Acta medicae historiae patavina 12 (1965-66): 117-42.Google Scholar
Prosperi, Adriano. “II sangue e l'anima: Ricerche sulle compagnie di giustizia in Italia.” Quademi storici 17 (1982): 959-99.Google Scholar
Putti, Vittorio. Berengario da Carpi: Saggio biografico e bihliograjico, seguito dalla tradu zione del ‘Defractura calvae seu cranei'. Bologna, 1937.Google Scholar
Richardson, Ruth. Death, Dissection and the Destitute. London, 1988.Google Scholar
Rudloff, Ernst von. Über das Konservieren von Leichen im Mittelalter: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Anatomic und des Bestattungswesens. Freiburg, 1921.Google Scholar
Salimbene, de Adam. Cronica. Ed. Giuseppe Scalia. 2 vols. Bari, 1966.Google Scholar
Santi, Francesco. “II cadavre e Bonifacio VIII, tra Stefano Tempier e Avicenna: Intorno a un saggio di Elizabeth Brown.” Studi medieval! 28/2 (1987): 861-78.Google Scholar
Sawday, Jonathan. “The Fate of Marsyas: Dissecting the Renaissance Body.” In Renaissance Bodies: The Human Figure in English Culture, c. 1540-1660, ed. Gent, Lucy and Llewellyn, Nigel, 112-35. London, 1990.Google Scholar
Schäfer, Dietrich. “Mittelalterlicher Brauch bei der Überführung von Leichen.” Sitzungsberichte der preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin) (1920): 478-98.Google Scholar
Schultz, Bernard. Art and Anatomy in Renaissance Italy. Ann Arbor, 1985.Google Scholar
Siraisi, Nancy G. Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine: An Introduction to Knowledge and Practice. Chicago, 1990.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Siraisi, Nancy G. Taddeo Alderotti and his Pupils: Two Generations of Italian Medical Learning. Princeton, 1981.Google Scholar
Spierenburg, Pieter. The Spectacle of Suffering: Executions and the Evolution of Repression, from a Preindustrial Metropolis to the European Experience. Cambridge, 1984.Google Scholar
Strocchia, Sharon T. Death and Ritual in Renaissance Florence. Baltimore, 1992.Google Scholar
Strocchia, Sharon T. “Death Rites and the Ritual Family in Renaissance Florence.” In Life and Death in Fifteenth-Century Florence, ed. Marcel Tetel,Witt, Ronald G., and Rona Goffen, 120-45. Durham, NC and London, 1989.Google Scholar
Thomas, Louis-Vincent. Le cadavre: de la biologie à Vanthropologic Brussels, 1980.Google Scholar
Thorndike, Lynn. Science and Thought in the Fifteenth Century. New York, 1929.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Thorndike, Lynn, ed. and trans. University Records and Life in the Middle Ages. New York, 1944.Google Scholar
Vasari, Giorgio. Le vite de’ più eccetletiti pittori, scultori ed architettori. Ed. Gaetano Milanesi. 9 vols. Florence, 1878-85.Google Scholar
Vauchez, André La sainteté en Occident au derniers siècles du Moyen Age d'après les procès de canonisation et les documents hagiographiques. Rome, 1981.Google Scholar
Vesalius, Andreas. De humani corporisfabrica. Basel, 1543. Facs. ed. Brussels, 1964.Google Scholar
Vesalius, Andreas. Opera omnia anatomica et chirurgica. Ed. Hermann Boerhaave and Bernhard Siegfried Albini. 2 vols. Leiden, 1725.Google Scholar
Vesalius, Andreas. Vila beatae Margaritae virginis de Civitate Castelli. In Analecta bollandiana 19 (1900): 211-36.Google Scholar
Wickersheimer, Ernest, ed. Anatomies de Mondinodei Luzzi et de Guido de Vigevano. Paris, 1926.Google Scholar
Wolff, Gerhard. “Leichen-Besichtigungund -Untersuchung bis zur Carolina als Vorstufe gerichtlicher Sektion.” Janus 42 (1938): 225-86.Google Scholar