Paolo Gorini between stone and ash on the bicentenary of his birth (1813-2013)
by Alberto Carli
1. Biographical album
The son of a professor of mathematics, from whom he was orphaned at the age of twelve, Gorini recounted in his Autobiography (1881) that he completed his studies in natural sciences at the Pavia University with the financial help of his father’s colleagues:
Fui dato alla luce nella casa Gallarati situata nella contrada del Gesù, quasi di fronte alla chiesa e facente angolo con la contrada di S. Agostino […]. Abbandonai la detta casa nel quinto anno di vita per trasferirmi colla famiglia nell’ex convento di S. Francesco di Pàola situato sulla piazza del collegio Ghislieri, ed ivi ebbi sempre il mio domicilio per tutto quel tempo che mi fu dato di rimanere nella mia città nativa. Passai tre anni della mia fanciullezza nel collegio di S. Salvatore fuori dalla porta che allora chiama vasi di Borgoratto. Ivi feci il corso dei primi tre anni di ginnasio dal novembre 1820 al settembre 1823. Poi, rientrato in famiglia, feci il quarto e il quinto anno di ginnasio presso le scuole pubbliche di Canepanuova. Dai passatempi cui allora mi abbandonava si sarebbe con facilità potuto prevedere qual sarebbe stato il gènere di occupazioni alle quali durante la mia vita mi sarèi di preferenza dedicato.
Quanto approfittava poco dell’istruzione dàtami al Ginnasio tanto più faceva tesoro di quella impartìtami senza pedanteria e senza pregiudizii scolastici dal maestro privato Alessandro Scannini, quello stesso che morì vittima della brutalità austriaca, incolpato d’éssere stato uno dei promotori della sommossa avvenuta in milano il 6 febbraio 1853.
In 1834 he obtained the chair of physics and natural sciences at the Lodi city school and in the 1840s became known for a series of experiments that were designed to artificially reproduce on a small scale the formation of volcanoes and their eruptive activity. He was a patriot, in contact with intellectuals and leading figures of the Risorgimento such as Carlo Cattaneo, Mazzini, Garibaldi, Maria Cristina Trivulzio di Belgiojoso. When the Austrian government in 1857 transformed the Lodi School from City to Imperial, Gorini preferred to retire from teaching and devoted himself thereafter to conducting privately experimental research, which was addressed in particular to the preservation of “animal matter”.
After the advent of Italian unity, he volunteed in 1865 to conduct a survey of the volcanic risks in the Peninsula but did not receive any funding. Greater success was his scientific and social battle, with the support of the influential Milanese physician Gaetano Pini, in favor of cremation, which in Gorini’s opinion was also a way to save the body from corruption similar to that of anatomical preparation. He was responsible for the construction of the first crematorium in Italy, a structure erected in Romagna, in the cemetery of Riolo that was very innovative for its time and the result of long years of study and trial and error.
2. History of a collection
The Paolo Gorini anatomical collection contains almost two hundred dry preparations made by Gorini between 1843 and the 1870s which is now kept at the Lodi Hospital.
On Gorini’s death a government commission chaired by the Milanese physician Malachia De Cristoforis asked for the entire collection to be acquired by the state for scientific purposes. The proposal was approved by the Parliament in Rome, but was rejected by the Central Office of the Senate, on the basis of a heavily unfavorable report made by the famous physiologist Jacob Moleschott. Much of this collection was donated by the heirs to the town of Lodi.
This impressive series of human and animal preparations should not be considered as a macabre or unusual collection. The need to maintain unaltered entire bodies or parts engaged medical and university naturalists in the mid-19th century. Among them, in Italy, Andrea Verga and before him, Antonio Scarpa and Bartolomeo Panizza, as well as independent scholars such as the pharmacist Felice Ambrosioni, Doctor Ephisius Marini and the cartographer and traveler Girolamo Segato, father of the petrification of organic tissues based on fluid replacement with organic minerals.
3. The petrification
The system of petrification developed by Gorini consisted in the mineralization of tissues by replacing the organic liquids responsible for decomposition with salts that prevented the same. The search for new methods of anatomical preparation was not only important for teaching purposes, but was implemented in museums, for the artwork of anatomy in the Academies of Fine Arts, and in the field of criminal investigations, which at the time were beginning to use medical science as an aid.