By: Taylor Eisenstein
This past summer, I had the opportunity explore medicine, hospitality, and compassion as I traveled to over 50 sites and more than 47 towns and cities in Italy with the Italian Studies Summer Program, an interdisciplinary venture that focused on bioethics, humanities, medicine, and compassion. This study abroad experience involved faculty from the Emory Center for Ethics and School of Medicine in collaboration with the Italian Studies program. Different hospitals and universities observed on this study abroad provided insight into the history of health and medicine and illuminated the integration of medicine with art. Snapshots of just a few of the places that I visited in Italy are described below.
Located in Florence, Italy, the ‘Hospital of the Innocents’ initially served as an orphanage for young children. Parents unable to care for their babies could anonymously leave them in a rotating wheel that would then carry them into building. Sometimes parents would leave half a locket or trinket with the child and keep the other half, as a way to maintain a connection with their loved ones. The image of a baby comfortably swaddled in fabric became a prominent sign for the Innocenti, which inspired the symbol of the American Academy of Pediatrics today. Filippo Brunelleschi designed this building in the 1400s; by constructing certain open spaces that actively filtered in light, he helped facilitate an environment conducive to healing for orphaned children.
Founded in 1288, the ‘Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova’ is the oldest hospital currently operating in Florence and offers services such as dermatology, radiology, neurology, psychiatry, and more. This hospital also hosts an elaborate piece of architecture called The Cloister of Bones, a temple built in the nineteenth century that acted as a burial site.
Located in Siena, this hospital—now a museum—once cared for children and the sick. Abandoned babies were provided with wet nurses, and girls were even given dowries. Because it was positioned among common traveling routes, this hospital also provided welcome lodgings for pilgrims, as indicated by the presence of a Pilgrim’s Hall. Frescoes in the hospital provide insight into early medical treatment and the fusion of care and compassion. For instance, Caring for the Sick by Domenico di Bartolo seemingly depicts an extremely ill man being comforted and supported through his illness; it also portrays another man whose injuries are being examined.
Universities once employed the use of anatomical theatres in order to perform dissections and teach anatomy to curious observers, including medical students and physicians. The first anatomical theatre was built at the University of Padua—the fifth-oldest currently operating university in the world—in the late 1500s. A small operating table is positioned in the middle of the theatre, on a bottom level; seating capable of serving more than one hundred individuals is elevated and looks down on the table. Demonstrations would sometimes be accompanied by live music. Additionally, the University of Bologna, the world’s oldest surviving university, holds a smaller anatomical theatre that depicts images of prominent historical figures, such as Hippocrates and Galen.