The exhibition

Scientific icons tells the history of early modern science in Bologna through the autobiographies and the portraits of its main characters. The choice of such an historical perspective is justified by the existence of an exceptional collection of portraits at the University of Bologna: recently catalogued by Giulia Gandolfi, this collection shows the strong links between the University and the Bolognese Institute of the Sciences, and represents a noteworthy gallery of physicians and scientists. Other important documents complement this rich iconographic documentation: medals, sculptures, commemorative stones, epigraphs, books, albums, manuscripts, and letters showing how early modern Bolognese naturalists put in place sophisticated techniques of self-representation through which they attempted to establish their reputation. The thread linking together the 105 items of this exhibition is given by the ways in which the main characters of this story desired to be seen by their contemporaries and to go down to posterity.

Inquiring about the historical phenomenon of the scientist’s self-representation led to a new way of thinking about the exposition of the portraits of the Museum of Palazzo Poggi, the Rectorate, and the University Library. Thanks to the operative collaboration of all institutional parties involved, this exhibition gives a new order to the present exposition with the aim of making appear again the lives of men, women, and institutions that lie at the core of one of the most extraordinary periods of the history of science in Bologna.

Marco Beretta