Thursday, October 29, 2009

Napoleon's Conversation Piece

I made a point of going back to the Museum of the History of Medicine for a second time here in Paris because the first time I went, I didn't have my camera with me. I had found the museum completely by accident, while poking around the medical school, trying to find the Musée Dupuytren (which I eventually found, but they don't allow photos). But, this is a beautiful little museum, largely unknown even to Parisians, that houses what must be the most singularly fantastic, bizarre and grotesque object I have ever seen in my life. Read on (unless you're squeamish). First, you have to walk past the cases of shining scalpels, knives, saws and things that hurt just to look at.

A prosthetic arm from the 16th century.

As I was about to take the stairs up to the mezzanine, I nearly passed by this little table, positioned without importance in the corner, by the fire extinguisher. What is that? Is that a...a foot?

(click to enlarge - if you want)

The table-top looked like some sort of messy mosaic. Then I noticed the ears. The description (offered only in French) reads:
Made by Efisio Marini, Italian naturalist doctor, and offered to Napoléon III. This table is formed of petrified brains, blood, bile, liver, lungs and glands upon which rests a foot, four ears and sections of vertebrae, which are also petrified.
The top of the foot is capped in engraved silver bearing the date 1866. I have been unable to find any other information or images online of this table, and simply had to go back and photograph it for D+R readers.

Link to a translated entry in Italian on Efisio Marini
ETA: I found this blog entry with more photos!