The latin word mirabilia, from which the word marvellous derives, had a double meaning. On one hand, it referred to the medieval precursors of modern tourists guides: these were incunabula presenting the pilgrim or the traveller with all the beauties of the city he was about to visit.
On the other hand, in XVIII century wunderkammern, the term was used to describe all those extraordinary objects created by Nature (naturalia) or by man (artificialia).
The two purposes of the Bizzarro Bazar Collection are similar: to appraise and explore some “hidden” wonders of the Italian peninsula, while stimulating consideration of the italian anthropological and cultural heritage; and to convey, through Carlo Vannini’s amazing photographs, the sense of awe and enchantment one can feel entering a wunderkammer.
THE ETERNAL VIGIL
Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo
The Catacombs in Palermo host the largest collection of artificial and natural mummies in the world. The book traces the history of this unique place, which fascinated so many poets and intellectuals, analizes its anthropological and tanathological relevance, and unveils the techniques and processes through which the monks were able to perfectly preserve the bodies.
The Eternal Vigil can be purchased here.
Here’s our featured post about The Eternal Vigil on BoingBoing.
The Fontanelle Cemetery in Naples
In the heart of Naples, lies an underground cathedral excavated in tuff, where tens of thousands skulls are piled up. Here one of the most peculiar devotional cults has developed. It’s the cult of the anime pezzentelle, abandoned and anonymous souls who need the compassion of the living to soothe their suffering in Purgatory. Here the skulls are spoken to, touched, and cleaned. They are taken care of. Candles are lit, offerings are given and favours asked for in a do ut des of worship. A unique, fascinating and moving place.
De profundis can be purchased here.
Here’s my guest post for Morbid Anatomy on the Fontanelle Cemetery: The Call of Abandoned Souls.
Bizzarro Bazar Collection – Volume 3
Italian Religious Ossuaries
“There is a crack, a crack in everything: That’s how the light gets in” sings Leonard Cohen, and this is ultimately the message brought by the bones that can be admired in this book; death is an eternal wound and at the same time a way out. A long way from the idea of cemetery, its atmosphere of peace and the emotions it instils, the term “ossuary” usually evokes an impression of gloomy coldness but the three places in this book are very different. The subjects in question are Italy’s most important religious ossuaries in which bones have been used with decorative ends: the Capuchin Crypt and Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte in Rome, and San Bernardino alle Ossa in Milan. Thick with the sensation of mortality and vanitas, these ossuaries are capable of performing a completely unexpected role: on the one hand they embody the memento mori as an exhortation to trust in an afterlife for which the earthly life is a mere preparation and test, on the other they represent shining examples of macabre art. They are the suggestive and emotional expression – which is at the same time compassionate – of a “high” feeling: that of the transitory, of the inexorability of detachment and the hope of Resurrection. Decorated with the same bones they are charged with safeguarding, they pursue the Greek concept of kalokagathìa, namely to make the “good death” even aesthetically beautiful, disassembling the physical body to recompose it in pleasant and splendid arrangements and thereby transcend it. The clear and in-depth texts of the book set these places in the context of the fideistic attitudes of their time and Christian theological traditions whereas the images immerse us in these sacred places charged with fear and fascination. Page after page, the patterns of skulls and bones show us death in all of its splendour, they make it mirabilis, worthy of being admired.
Mors Pretiosa can be purchased here.
Bizzarro Bazar Collection – Volume 4
HIS ANATOMICAL MAJESTY
Museo Morgagni di Padova
Floating in their glass jars, the Siamese twins are watching us. They seem to preserve the secret of an ancient enigma, the mystery of the human body, that we persist in considering as fixed and definitive. But in these pages the preparations quietly resting in the display cases show us a different reality: that of the body that went crazy and became a multiple and unpredictable battlefield. They tell us about the horrible, wild imagination of disease, and the story of the scientists who have devoted their life to understanding and defeating it.
The book literally takes the readers by the hand and guides them through the wonders of the “Morgagni” Museum of Anatomical Pathology, which houses papers and writings by Giovanni Battista Morgagni, and more than 1,500 items, either dried, preserved in alcohol or formaline, or tanninised, which not only document the most terrible dysfunctions and diseases but also throw light on what it meant to suffer from serious diseases two or three hundred years ago. Confronted with the incredible architecture of the anatomical machine, we gape in wonder like children looking at a mind-blogging invention. The pathological body here shown in detail is a fluid entity, freed from and forgetful of any limit, where the power of disease leaves behind it a mass of flesh sculpted in unimaginable forms, where science and art come together. This is why the “Morgagni” Museum is a place steeped not only with scientific and medical significance, but also in the most fertile kind of enchantment, capable of leaving us stunned and disorientated.
Combining historical and scientifical analysis and artistic and literary inspirations, the texts of the editor Ivan Cenzi are placed side by side with the images of Carlo Vannini, where anatomical preparations stand out against the black background with their sculptural and bright beauty that is no less fascinating than the works of the greatest sculptors. The book is completed and enriched by the scientific and museological notes by the research unit of the Institute of Anatomical Pathology in Padova (dr. Alberto Zanatta, dr. Fabio Zampieri, prof. Maurizio Rippa Bonati and prof. Gaetano Thiene).
His Anatomical Majesty – The Potent and Obscure Splendour of Disease can be purchased here.