Sunday, April 27, 2008

Iciligorgia subgondolus

Always in search of new methods, [anatomical sculptor Clemente] Susini was encouraged by the nobleman Giuseppe Foncelli (an amateur biologist) to investigate the plastic applications of
“vene del doge” or Venetian vein coral (Iciligorgia subgondolus), a species named for its striking resemblance to the human vascular system. The coral also proved easy to induce into desired general shapes, and its deep red, naturally smooth surface required no polishing.

But to be groomed and set to properly mimic an arterial network, a coral tree had to be rooted in soil and its polyps teased and fed underwater — alongside the waxen components they were meant to interlock with. The ductile masticcimo wax, preferred by Susini, flaked and corrupted easily when submerged. Furthermore, the vein coral reportedly could not, for all its malleability, meet the scrupulous standard of exact duplication required for the cadaveri sezionati. Susini, having meanwhile improved his “warm wire” method, soon ended the experiment.

Three coral sculptures — of the carotid arteries and their main ramifications — remained as souvenirs. The eccentric Count Ottavio Reguinelli, known as one of Bologna’s most prominent Rosicrucians, purchased them in 1804. He had one installed inside a made-to-scale glass bust, with a complementary brain coral
(Diploria extracerebroformus) in the cranial region. This he placed in his “hermetic grotto” (since destroyed), where it would rise, by mechanical means, from a watery basin, then interact with other automata. Reguinelli titled the whole piece “Trimegister Reconstituted in the Lunar Cove.” One guest who observed the contraption dismissed it in his diary as “in the most abysmal taste and not even terrific in its discord.”

From: Nelma Blightoon, Italian Ceroplastic Craft in Science and Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972: p. 257.