Two contrasting memorials: Malpighi and Sbaraglia


The wall decorations of the Archiginnasio Palace are basically of two types: the students’ coats of arms and the memorials, that are about 140 decorations dedicated to the professors of the Bolognese Studio.

The memorial dedicated to Giovanni Girolamo Sbaraglia. Sbaraglia held the chair of Anatomy and Medicine and he died in 1710 at the age of 69.
There are two allegorical figures: Experience (which has the eyes drawn on the palms of the hands) and Reason (which holds a horse bit, alluding to the ability to tame passions). These figures were painted in 1713 by Donato Creti and they show the medallion above, with Sbaraglia’s effigy, realised by Giuseppe Mazza.
However, it should be noted that Malpighi, Sbaraglia’s antagonist, was the one who supported the importance of experience and of microscopic observation.. 


The memorial dedicated to Marcello Malpighi. This memorial is dedicated to the physician and anatomist Marcello Malpighi, who is considered the father of microscopic observation in anatomy, histology, physiology, embryology and practical medicine. It was painted between 1686 and 1687 by the Bolognese painter Marcantonio Franceschini.
The fresco represents Mercury, the symbol of eloquence and reason, that entrusts a sheet of paper with the name of the well-known physician Marcello Malpighi (1628-1694) to Eternity. On the right, Medicine attends the scene while holding a caduceus.

Malpighi and Sbaraglia are represented near the Anatomical Theatre and on the walls of the arcaded loggia, but their relationship was always conflictual, both for the different scientific approach and for the struggles between their families, who lived on neighbouring plots. Suffice it to recall the killing of Sbaraglia’s son by Malpighi’s brother and the destruction of Malpighi’s villa in Corticella, by Sbaraglia and a group of his students.

“[…] I, Sbaraglia (…) not satisfied to torment him in the city, now he turns over to bother him in the countryside. He carries out a plan according to which he and some students armed with rods besiege his own villa (…). Every precious thing he had was ruined. He squandered his anatomical devices, he broke his microscopes and put to devastation and disorder the whole Malpighi’s villa, without showing any respect for the anatomist” (Published and unpublished news of Marcello Malpighi and Lorenzo Bellini’s biography and works, collected by Gaetano Atti, Bologna, typography Governativa alla Volpe, 1847).