Art and Surgery: The Hall of Murals
One of the unique aspects of the International Museum of Surgical Science is the Museum’s integration of the fine arts with medical artifacts in presenting the history of surgery and related sciences. Paintings, sculpture, prints, and drawings comprise a noteworthy part of the Museum’s collections and may be found on exhibit throughout the galleries.
A significant example of the Museum’s fine art collection, the Hall of Murals, was among the first exhibits to be installed in the Museum at its opening in 1954. Located on the second floor of the Museum, this grand room, with its ornate decorative paneling, marble floors, and fireplace was originally the dining room of the residence as built for the Countiss family in 1917.
The Italian painter Gregorio Calvi di Bergolo (1904-1994) was commissioned in 1953 to paint 12 mural panels in oils for this room to illustrate the development of surgery throughout the ages. The artist was born in Turin, studied painting in Turin, Rome, and Paris, and took part in the principal Italian exhibitions of his time – the Quadriennale in Rome and the Venice Biennale.
A wide range of historical achievements in surgery and medicine are covered in the paintings, which each measure approximately 44 x 80 inches. Primitive trephining of the cranium in prehistoric Peru, the study of human anatomy by dissection in the Middle Ages, and a 15th century church hospital in Paris are examples of historical developments illustrated by the murals. Also featured are significant figures in the progress of surgery and medicine in dramatic scenes fro their life experiences. Among these are Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1818-1865), as he upholds the theory of antisepsis in obstetrics; Ambroise Paré (1510-1590), treating wounded soldiers on the battlefield; and Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), presenting his epoch-making anatomical work to Emperor Charles V of Spain.
These fascinating paintings were archivally documented by the Museum in 2001. The resulting photographic images were published in poster and note card formats, both available for purchase from the Museum.