The scientific collections

Among the collections of scientific objects, the Museum of the History of Science (today the Galileo Museum) was badly hit, as it is located directly on the Arno. Galileo’s telescope and other objects associated with the scientist became symbols of the damaged suffered, photographed in the hands of then-director Maria Luisia Righini Bonelli, standing in front of the museum in piazza dei Giudici, in the middle of the mud. Inside, the rooms on the human body (VI and VII), dedicated to the anatomist Giovanni Paolo Mascagni and the surgeon Giovanni Alessandro Brambilla, were invaded with water up to two meters high. The room contained 18th-century materials such as the surgeon’s box and the didactic model, on display here.

Three wax tableaux by Gaetano Zumbo were in the Museum’s storage at the time: The Triumph of Time, The Vanity of Human Greatness and The Plague. The late 17th-century masterpieces came from the Grand Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici’s collection and are today conserved in the “Specola” Museum, an organ of the Museum of Natural History at the University of Florence. Devastated and shattered, all three were transferred to the Centro di Restauro delle Sculture e delle Arti Minori on the top floor of the Palazzo Davanzati, where they were expertly restored with the help of photographic images by Alinari.

The attention Maria Luisa Righini Bonelli successfully garnered towards the Museum’s collection stimulated a growing interest for other less-notable scientific collections in the city as well. Among these is the Gabinetto di Fisica’s collection at the historical Istituto Tecnico Toscano (then the Istituto “Galileo Galilei) in via Giusti, which today belongs to the Fondazione Scienza e Tecnica. Long forgotten and unused, the artefacts became the subject of a study and a restoration campaign in the 1980s carried out by a laboratory purposely established inside the institution.

On that occasion, traces of mud from the 1966 flood were discovered on some objects. In this, as in many other cases, the disaster indirectly fostered new studies and stimulated a reflection on conserving a collecting and museum sector until then nearly ignored.