Antonio Scarpa's Head – Pavia, Italy - Atlas Obscura

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Antonio Scarpa's Head

University of Pavia

What better way to honor a pioneering anatomist than by preserving his severed head like a specimen? 


Italian anatomist Antonio Scarpa was known for his ruthless demeanor and masterful work in the field of biology, and to this day, the professor’s severed head is still on display in a fittingly severe tribute to the man. 

The Museo per la Storia dell’Università di Pavia (Museum of the Story of the University of Pavia) was founded on the 100th anniversary of Scarpa’s death and it is there that the anatomist’s head and digits have been preserved in formaldehyde. Scarpa was a known bachelor with a number of illegitimate children whom he was notorious for promoting through nepotism while at the same time treating his colleagues with a brutally ruthless attitude. In many circles, Scarpa was markedly unpopular.

Thus when Scarpa died, with no spouse to dictate his wishes, his former assistant performed the autopsy. In doing so, the former assistant preserved Scarpa’s head, thumb, index finger, and urinary tract, placing all but the head on display in the university’s anatomy museum. The head remained hidden for a number of years until the current museum was founded and the head was put on public display while the rest of Scarpa’s parts were put into storage. 

A gruesome preservation of the man who put Italy’s University of Pavia on the map, no one is quite sure why Scarpa’s body was preserved by the assistant. It seems likely that it was either for posterity or maybe even revenge on the unfriendly anatomist. 

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