The mystery of the severed heads of Pisa

The University of Pisa was historically one of the first to have an anatomical school; consequently the Museum of Human Anatomy, established at the beginning of the nineteenth century, is very rich in both dry and wet preparations.

It also houses some archaeological collections, including Egyptian and pre-Columbian mummies, and a whole series of artifacts coming in particular from South America.

When I visited it last year, among the many amazing preparations, a cabinet display in particular caught my eye.
It contains eight perfectly mummified heads, which immediately seemed different to me from the rest of the collection. And in fact I was not wrong: even today a mystery surrounds them.

To understand a little bit of the history of these heads we must start from the date of their arrival in Pisa, that is 1869, a period of particular ferment.

Five years earlier, Darwin’s Origin of Species had been translated into Italian, causing quite a stir. Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, the theory of the evolution fueled the curiosity of researchers and laymen.
In an academic speech delivered in 1874, prof. Pietro Duranti said:

Everyone discusses it, people of all ages, of all sexes, of all conditions; and the desire to descend from the Orangutan or the Gorilla has become a fever. Aside from the exaggeration and the ridicule, the matter is serious; scholarly and distinguished men support it here and there; and Ethnology hopes to solve it.(1)P. Duranti, Discorso pronunziato dal Cav. Prof. Pietro Duranti nel giorno 17 novembre 1874. Tipografia Nistri, Pisa (1875)

To “solve” the question, that is, to understand how evolution works, it was necessary, however, to “gather the appropriate materials“.

Carlo Regnoli, a young Pisan physician and paleontologist, decided to make his contribution, traveling twice to South America (in 1869 and 1872) in search of mummies and pre-Columbian finds. As Duranti said in that same speech:

[Regnoli] crosses the ocean twice; he directs and extends his research to a large part of South America, from the tombs of Argentina to those of the beaches of the Strait of Magellan and of the anthropophagous Patagonia; from the burial grounds of Araucania, of Chile, to those of the very high mountains of Bolivia, to the hypogea of the great Titicaca lake, to the caves of Peru. And everywhere, rummaging and searching, he collects both the remains of the Spaniards, who brought Columbus there, and the remains of the very ancient and unknown aborigines; and he sends everything back to Europe, to his beloved Pisa.

Regnoli sent several crates to Pisa with the antiquities “which he earned at the price of money, inconvenience and dangers“, although not all of them reached their destination because some were lost during shipwrecks: “as soon as they were unearthed from the ground, they were buried again in the deep whirlpools of the ocean“.

However, the amount of material that survived, and which today is part of the Museum of Anatomy in Pisa, was truly remarkable. Among other things, there are various examples of pottery, funeral and votive objects, skulls, fardos — “cocoons” of cloth containing the remains of the deceased — as well as two natural Peruvian mummies, curled up in the classic fetal positioning.(2)G. Natale, A. Paparelli, F. Garbari, Una lettera di Giovanni Arcangeli su alcuni reperti botanici precolombiani della Collezione Regnoli (Museo di anatomia umana dell’Università di Pisa), in Atti della Società toscana di scienze naturali, Mem., Serie B, vol. 113 (2006)

Unfortunately, Carlo Regnoli died shortly after his return to Italy, at the age of 35 in 1873; consequently very little information accompanies the pre-Columbian finds, regarding the dates and places of their discovery.

In the inventory, the eight mummified heads are vaguely cataloged as “Chilean heads”. But who were these individuals, when and how did they die?

The first analyzes, conducted by a multidisciplinary study group(3)P. Barile, M. Longhena, R. Melli, S. Zampetti, P. Lenzi, G. Natale, D. Caramella, El estraño caso de las cabezas decapitadas, Revista DM MD – Ciencia y Cultura Médica, N. 26 (Giugno 2015), have already begun to shed some light on this enigma, even if many questions remain unsolved.

Five heads are male, one female, and two belong to children. The study of the teeth and sutures on the skulls of the two babies indicates that they were less than 16 months old.

The truly macabre detail, however, comes from the examination of the neck: all the heads show clean cuts at the level of the second and third cervical vertebrae; these eight individuals were executed by beheading.

Before being killed, the woman received a blow to the face so violent as to break her nose and swell one eye: there are in fact signs of a ptosis (lowering of the eyelid) of traumatic origin, and the nasal septum is deviated in the same direction where the right eyelid is folded.

Radiocarbon dating made it possible to establish with a high probability that these finds date back to an era between 1440 and 1690.

Right in the middle of this period of time, around 1546, began the longest conflict in history, the Arauco war, fought in Chile between the Mapuche of the Araucania region and the Spanish colonists. The bloody execution of these eight individuals could therefore be linked in some way to the war massacres, but in the absence of further information this remains speculation.

As for the identity of the eight individuals, there is a further element of interest. The anthropological characteristics of the heads of adult males (scalp, hair and beard, shape of the incisors, etc.) seem to suggest that they were Europeans of Caucasian ethnicity; the female, on the other hand, wears two long braids which have similarities with some pre-Columbian cultures and the shape of her teeth would also confirm her indigenous origin. For this reason, a plausible hypothesis is that this was a mixed family, made up of male settlers married to native women.

Was this family massacred in the course of some reprisal or pillage?

DNA analysis will be able to confirm or deny any degree of kinship, but anyways it seems difficult that we can ever trace the true, complete story of these tragically killed people; nor the exact circumstances in which Regnoli came into possession of the heads.

On this subject, it is worth making a final, brief clarification.

To modern eyes, the attitude of a European academic buying human remains or funeral objects belonging to different cultures may seem utterly colonial. And, let’s face it, it is.

Certainly at the time the scruples on the methods of archaeological “collection” were almost non-existent, especially for a discipline such as ethnology which was taking its first steps; but if today these methods seem questionable, it is interesting to remember that the intentions and implications of these studies were often, paradoxically, anti-colonial and anti-racist.

We have already mentioned, at the beginning of this article, the fuss raised by Darwin. From that debate two currents emerged, in many ways opposite to each other: on the one hand, social Spencerism, which was eager to use the evolution of the species and the survival of the fittest to motivate racism and class differences (an idea strongly opposed by Darwin himself); and on the other hand the ethno-anthropological evolutionism, which instead denied the existence of races, claiming that all societies proceeded on the same line of progress. For evolutionists, studying “savage” populations — who were not seen as inferior to the white man but merely situated at a more immature stage of progress — could provide clues as to how the ancestors of Europeans also lived.

Today even this kind of nineteenth-century anthropological evolutionism is outdated (following the decline of the positivist idea of a linear “progress” which, coincidentally, always saw Western societies as the most advanced ones); but it had the merit of countering the scientific claim of racist and colonial theories.

It seems a contradiction, but it’s one of those apparent incongruities history is full of: with the anthropological study of “primitive societies”, carried out by looting tombs and acquiring ethically questionable finds, the historical foundations were laid for the confutation of the existence of races, now proven also at the genetic level.

The eight heads remain silent on the shelf of the Museum, united by a tragic destiny: they are a complex symbol of the violence, oppression and cruelty of which the human being is capable. Their identity, the life they spent, the carnage in which they found their end and even their post-mortem history remain hidden secrets in the folds of time.

Here is the official site of the “Filippo Civinini” Museum of Human Anatomy in Pisa; it is also possible to make a 360 ° virtual visit.

Note

Note
1 P. Duranti, Discorso pronunziato dal Cav. Prof. Pietro Duranti nel giorno 17 novembre 1874. Tipografia Nistri, Pisa (1875)
2 G. Natale, A. Paparelli, F. Garbari, Una lettera di Giovanni Arcangeli su alcuni reperti botanici precolombiani della Collezione Regnoli (Museo di anatomia umana dell’Università di Pisa), in Atti della Società toscana di scienze naturali, Mem., Serie B, vol. 113 (2006)
3 P. Barile, M. Longhena, R. Melli, S. Zampetti, P. Lenzi, G. Natale, D. Caramella, El estraño caso de las cabezas decapitadas, Revista DM MD – Ciencia y Cultura Médica, N. 26 (Giugno 2015)

The Nativity Scene, Death and the Dream

Does the Neapolitan nativity scene hide a dark and mysterious side?
Here is a small video where I talk about it (as usual, you can turn on the English subtitles).

Happy Holidays!

The Witch’s Skin

Guestpost by Costanza De Cillia

If the body of the enemy, whether captured or killed, has always been the object of universal interest on the part of the human consortium, there was an era in which it was literally valid as a body of evidence: the period of witch hunts, in Europe, between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. Then, as we will see, the suspect’s belonging to the abominable convent of the Devil was ascertained with a thorough personal search, during which the body of the alleged witch, chained and shaved, was searched in detail for tangible evidence of her nefarious sin.

This investigative methodology derives from the dictates of demonology, which arose in the wake of the papal bull of Innocent VIII Summis Desiderantes affectibus (1484): an anatomy of witchcraft elaborated by cultured literature, which – in numerous manuals, among which the Malleus Maleficarum (1486) is probably the most famous – taught how to conduct investigations to verify the guilt of the prisoner.

As early as the 12th century, with the spread of medical treatises, the diagnosis of the divine or evil nature of invading spirits became a distinction between holy bodies and deviant bodies, which demons, spiritual creatures endowed with semi-corporeality, could enter through the various openings. The human mouth, in particular, granted access to two distinct physiological systems: the spiritual one, having as its center the heart, which was usually possessed by the Holy Spirit, and the digestive system, the bowels, in which all contaminating impurities reside, thus the preferred residence of evil spirits.

Since demons loved to settle in the “cavities” of the human body, it was natural for them to prefer the female body – the ideal habitat whose anatomy, considered weak and full of openings, seemed to facilitate the entry of impure entities.

This only aggravated the already fragile theological and existential condition of the woman, seen as a deceiving and treacherous being who originated from Adam’s bent rib, and was therefore imperfect (designated as fe-mina, “she who has less faith”, a deficiency that she was thought to compensate with her insatiable lust).

This negative vision of women might be the reason for the imbalance between the number of witches and sorcerers, which is intercultural and present in all historical periods: psychology and ethnopsychiatry explain this asymmetry by indicating how the witch was perceived as the inverted image of the fertile woman; a phallic and devouring mother/stepmother, who arouses envy and libido to the point of making her a scapegoat. In a society that worshiped fertility, the female body, especially the elderly body, arose strong fears, due to an ambiguity that made it similar to that of an animal, a polluting and disturbing presence. Thus the witch was associated with threatening, harmful magical powers, which made her the opposite of a good housewife and mother, and affected the spheres related to childbirth, death and love; on the other hand, male sorcerers were usually accused of spells aimed at controlling the climate and the crops, therefore closer to daily working life.

But, as we said, it was in the 15th century that the conceptual transition from sorcery to witchcraft took place, that is, from the definition of witchcraft as an exercise of maleficia (malignant magic against others, in particular against the foundations of peasant community life: the harvest, health of young people, human and animal sexuality for reproductive purposes) to its qualification as a heresy based on the veneration of Satan.

The witch was no longer seen as a “bad neighbor” devoted to antisocial behavior, who resorted to supernatural means in order to satisfy her evil desires; she became guilty of crimina excepta, exceptional crimes by virtue of their gravity, aimed at the destruction of Christian society and committed because of her own voluntary enslavement, both spiritual and physical, to the Infernal Spouse.

These crimes were deemed so atrocious as to make devil worshipers worthy of the death penalty, as traitors to God and to the human assembly: incest, infanticide, anthropophagy, desecration of the holy bread and- of sacred vestments, mainly committed on the occasion of the Sabbath. In this periodic collective gathering – which the initiates reached by means of the nocturnal “journey through the air” attracting great attention during interrogations – the witches perpetuated their perdition with banquets, acts of blasphemy, dances and ritual orgies (dominated by the carnal relationship with the devil and inaugurated by the osculum oscenum, the kiss “under the tail” of the Goat, president of the assembly).

Of course these deeds were unforgivable, as they were based on the perversion of the Creed and the inversion of the sacraments of the Christian religion.

Given these premises, witchcraft became to be seen as an impious cult, a false religion – of which spells and charms are but a by-product, meant to harm the good members of the community – the profession of which was considered a crime, an act of treason and political sedition.

Against this diabolical plot, comparable to an infection with which some sick sheep try to spread heresy within the flock of the faithful, a police operation was launched, whose severity reminds us of more modern concepts like zero-tolerance policies.

Despite the lack of proof of an actual, ritual form of devil worship (supporting the hypothesis that the Sabbath has always been just a myth), in this hunt two categories of tangible evidence were identified and considered conclusive, as they were directly observable: a public confession, which usually followed the denunciation by other witches, and the empirical verification of supernatural attributes.

The latter were carefully searched on the body of the accused, in a judicial torture session that anticipated the suffering of public execution: a degenerate medical examination, in which professional “witch-prickers” stuck special needles into the flesh of the alleged witch, looking for a bloodless and numb area of skin. This was the sign of the “devil’s paw”,shaped like a footprint, a spot, a red or blue dot: the witch’s mark, also known as signum diabolii or punctum/stygma diabolicum, present since birth on the skin of those who were “born witches” and doomed to be evil already in the womb of their mother. More frequently, it was a sign imprinted in the flesh by the Devil himself, at the end of the affiliation ceremony.

Parody of the stigmata of the saints, seal of servitude that sanctions the possession of the witch by Lucifer – simia Dei, the “monkey” who mocks and imitates God – the mark is imprinted with a bite or a scratch, on the forehead or in a hidden point of the body: on the shoulder or on the left side, inside the eyelid, on the abdomen or in locis secretissimis non nominandis (in the intimate parts or in the rectum).

Besides being reminiscent of the sign affixed by the Antichrist in Rev 13.16 (“the name of the beast or the number of his name”), this was considered, in line with the satanic ceremonial, the “reverse” of the circumcision in the Old Testament and of the sign of the cross in the New Testament; it attested to the witch’s perfidy, being its physical, visible and above all tangible manifestation. The mark was therefore an incriminating sign, which proved the woman took part in the Sabbath and belonged to the societas diabolii.

Subsequently, the commandments in Exod 22.18 (“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live“) and Lev 20.27 (“A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death” ) became imperative for earthly justice.

The search for the mark, however, appears to be an invention of cultured demonology, not very widespread in folklore and never applied with the same frequency as other demonstrations of witchcraft – with the exceptions of Civil War England, Scotland and, on the continent, Sweden, France and Switzerland.

The pricking of every part of the suspect’s body, therefore, seems to have found less diffusion than, for example, the swimming test (descendant of the “trial by water” present in European popular mythology since the Middle Ages), in which the bound witch was thrown into a pond or a well: her drowning was proof of innocence, while survival demonstrated the refusal by the pure element associated with baptism to touch her body, thus ascertaining her guilt.

Other known stratagems for detecting witches were drawing the suspects’ blood, boiling their urine and hair in a bottle, inserting a hot poker in their feces, burning straw from their home, pricking their portrait, and weighing them in comparison with a Bible; finally, there were more risky methods, vaguely superstitious, such as scratching the witch’s body (to neutralize the effects of her evil practices), or relying on the divinatory abilities of cunning men, healers practicing forms of “white”, beneficial magic.

Witchfinder general Matthew Hopkins (a well-known witch hunter, active in South East England between 1645 and 1647, with the assistance of the witch-pricker John Stearne) also suggested, in the treatise On the Discovery of Witches, to isolate the witch, subject her to a prolonged vigil for days and force her to walk incessantly, waiting for her imps or familiars to come to her rescue in front of the witnesses.

These vampire servant sprites, with the appearance of small pets, are purchased by the witch, inherited from her colleagues or donated to her by the Devil; in exchange for their help, she feeds them through a teat (supernumerary breast which honest women do not have) from which they suck yellowish milk, water and finally blood: if the sucking is suspended for more than twenty-four hours, this diabolical breast swells up to the point of bursting – a probatory indication, sufficient to impose the death sentence of the defendant. However, since the surplus breast was not often found, it was believed that many witches cut it off before being searched.

There were those who distinguished between the witch’s mark and the supernumerary nipple, and those who instead gathered both under the same category of probative evidence; but there was nonetheless absolute consensus on the value of these dermatological anomalies, as they brought a certainty that other forms of torture could not provide. In fact Satan, showing that his power was superior to any natural law and every counter-magic, conferred on his proteges the “gift of silence”, or the ability to resist pain, thus preventing any confession.

Although the presence of a mark was considered a definitive proof, this did not dispel the suspicion that most of the witch-pricking business was actually a scam, conducted by itinerant impostors (even women disguised as men, such as James Paterson and John Dickson) who were attracted by good pay and the possibility to freely torture their “patients” – so much so that some of them were legally prosecuted, for the cruelty shown and the rapes they committed.

As we have seen, witches were condemned because of a symptom that in the following centuries will be seen as a simple scar, a tattoo drawn in contempt at the command of Lev 19.28 (“Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you”) or, in the case of supernumerary nipples, as congenital hyperthelia/hypermastia.

Regarding the “supernatural” resistance to pain shown by witches, these peculiar phenomena of local analgesia are explained by the raising of the pain threshold due to fear or exhaustion; skin numbness could also be the consequence of diseases and malnutrition suffered by the humblest fringes of the early modern European population. Doctors and alienists have also speculated about the possible role of hysteria and epilepsy (“suffocation of the uterus”: an umbrella term used for various gynecological problems), as well as nervous or ecstatic syndromes, in diabolical possessions.

Regardless of subsequent medical explanations, at the time of the witchcraft trials the discovering of a mark left no hope for the defendant: found guilty of the worst of crimes, these women would be burned at the stake on the Continent, so the cathartic and disinfectant fire could purify their body and soul and scatter their earthly remains like ashes in the wind; they would instead end up hanged in England and North America (where, it must be remembered, witchcraft was never perceived as a heresy, but remained an illegal act against society): suspended between heaven and earth, unworthy of both, they would suffer a shameful death on the “one-armed cross”, the gallows. Their execution, accompanied by an infamous burial, usually at the foot of the gallows itself, was halfway between a moralistic theatrical show and a sporting competition where human bodies were subjected to fatal labors.

A mise-en-scène that, with its pedagogical-terrorist connotations, was meant to arouse a healthy fear in the spectators, agitated by a visceral sense of moral and emotional ambivalence. A spectacle in which the victims were hated, and at the same time pitied in their misfortune.

Costanza De Cillia is a Doctor of Philosophy and Sciences of Religions. Her main fields of research are the aesthetics of violence and the anthropology of execution.

Abracadabra !

I realized I never directly tackled a topic that has been intriguing me for years: illusionism.

I therefore made a video to explain my take on the century-old art of magic.

Turn on the English subtitles, and enjoy!

The Death of David Cronenberg

The short film The Death of David Cronenberg, published on September 19, 2021, is only 56 seconds long.
But these 56 seconds are disturbing, touching and unforgettable.

Signed by Cronenberg himself together with his daughter, the photographer Caitlin Cronenberg, it is a stripped-down scene focused on confronting one’s own mortality.

The Death of David Cronenberg is, according to the director himself, “a little metaphorical piece about a person embracing his own death. I embrace it, partially, because I have no choice: this is man’s fate.”

A brief and essential vision that is also intimately personal.
The director’s last years, in fact, were marked by two difficult griefs: in 2020 he lost Denise Cronenberg, his beloved sister and costume designer in most of his films, and three years earlier his wife Carolyn Zeifman had also passed away.
“[She] died in that house, in a bed, and it felt when she died, partly, like I died, and I still feel that. That corpse is my wife to me. […] It is a film about love and the transient aspect of being human.”

This dimension of personal confrontation also emerges from the peculiar genesis of this short film.
It all started with when his daughter Caitlin Cronenberg proposed him to make a short film to be tokenized as NFT.
Thinking of a possible project, the director was reminded of an episode that happened to him on the set of the SLASHER series, produced by Shudder.
As Cronenberg himself recounted, when he was working on the fourth season of the series “there was a moment, when the special effects people said, we’ve got a surprise for you,” Cronenberg said. “I was introduced to my corpse, and it was terrific.”

So, thinking back to that silicone prosthetic body, Cronenberg contacted Toronto’s Black Spot FX in order to borrow it, because “I have unfinished business with this dead version of me.”

Once the body was brought home (well hidden, so as not to alert the neighbors!), it was placed in Caitlin’s childhood bed. Cronenberg wasn’t immediately sure what to do with it: “I left it up there for a couple days and I’d occasionally just go and check it out. It had an emotional resonance for me.”

Therefore, in a sense, the short film accurately reflects the actual situation of the author, who in those days was locked in the house with the simulacrum of a corpse with his own features. A kind of bizarre shock therapy, as Cronenberg jokingly confirms: “To be able to actually kiss your [dead self], there’s no question it’s fantastic. I think everyone should do this. Everyone should have a corpse made by Black Spot FX.”

David Cronenberg’s cinema, in its entirety, proposes a complex artistic-philosophical reflection that is both surreal and materialistic: for the Canadian director, the exploration of the human psyche necessarily passes through the body, whose incessant and unpredictable mutations are the expression of the quivers of identity.
It is therefore not surprising that even his meditation on death and impermanence is rendered, in this very brief but incisive vision, in dramatically concrete, physical terms.

And at the same time the film is about the paradox of not being able to imagine one’s own death: even if I try to imagine what my funeral will be like, I need a hypothetical observer, because no image can exist without a point of view.
Even the death of others is no less elusive, because it is not empirical but on the contrary translates into a failure of the senses. I can depict in my mind the presence of a person but not their disappearance, which is expressed only “by proxy”, that is, in a sensory absence (all those moments in which the presence of the deceased was normal).

Figurative art — pictorial, plastic, photographic — has always been a way to overcome this impasse. As Mirko Orlando writes,

Death can only exist within the open circuit of life […] because its experience does not concern the deceased (those who die) but the community of survivors who mourn (those who survive). Death is an image because it is first of all imagined, because it can only be encountered on the horizon of its reflection; on the threshold of the corpse, of the photochemical or pictorial traces, of the imprecise boundaries of memories or in the labyrinths of the oneiric dimension. Only there can I meet the dead, only in their double, because it is clear that nothing else is allowed to me as long as I am alive.

(M. Orlando, Ripartire dagli addii, 2010)

That is why Cronenberg’s operation is also a hymn to the power of cinema: every artistic work is a representation, and this mise-en-scène makes it possible to manifest the impossible. Thanks to cinema, Cronenberg even allows himself to visualize the most elusive and inconceivable double: his own corpse, his own future “not being there”.
Finally, and it’s an even more subversive idea, he accepts that corpse, kisses it, cuddles it.
In an era in which at the center of every concern is the healthy body, whose failures (old age, illness, death) are not admitted or tolerated, this image is particularly unsettling and — a rare thing in his filmography — truly sweet.

 

BB Contest Awards 4

Finally, here are the results of the fourth edition of the Bizzarro Bazar Contest!

All the participants showed that they have a truly out of the ordinary fantasy and, like the other years, I was amazed and moved by the care and commitment that emerge from the realization of these works.
[Small note: among the many works that were submitted, there are some that I reluctantly had to exclude as they did not follow the rules of the contest.]

Let’s start with our parade of oddities!

A nice little fetus in a jar welcomes us, in the naive painting by m.pitturessa.

(m.pitturessa: Instagram)

ElaGhi’s evocative poem is a melancholic twilight vision that the Scapigliati would have loved.

(ElaGhi: Instagram)

Andrea Carrozzo’s memento mori seems to echo some verses of E.A. Poe (A Dream Within A Dream), but here the sand that the skeletal hand cannot hold is actually the dust to which, according to the famous maxim, man is forced to return .

Matteo Ruggeri transformed me into a creature of Italian folklore.
“I imagined it — he wrote me — as a page extrapolated from some bestiary or cryptozoology book, containing a mythological version of yourself, illustrated and duly described in its physical features and, obviously, in its supernatural faculties.”

I love the detail that I have the superpower to remove a cyst with a simple touch, but then I’ll keep it!

Thanks to Greta Fantini, now even Joseph Merrick is among my most loyal readers.

(Greta Fantini: Instagram, sito web)

Stefano Luciani has designed a Bizzarro Bazar deck of cards… perfect for serving your opponent the “dead man’s hand” (A ♠ A ♣ 8 ♠ 8 ♣).

(Stefano Luciani: Facebook)

Inside her wunderkammer (also containing a skull that looks suspiciously familiar) Chiara Toniolo is testing the size of a glass bell to fit her head.

(Chiara Toniolo: Instagram, Facebook)

Valentina, aka Cher Macabre, wondered what a hypothetical Bizzarro Bazar freakshow might look like. “Well, to try to answer the question, I decided to modify a photo a dear friend took of me years ago using one of the skulls in my collection. In working on it, I was inspired by those period images that have been analyzed several times on the pages of the blog.”

(Cher Macabre: Instagram)

Er Cantastorie, who tells stories, curiosities and more or less forgotten characters from Rome, dedicated this delightful rhyming profile to me. It’s twenty years now since I have been adopted by this city, so I can only be delighted by this Roman dialect little poem.

(Er Cantastorie: Instagram, Facebook)

The delicate work of Pamela Annunziata is dedicated to one of the most famous and mysterious figures of all time: the beautiful face framed by this floral pattern is that of l’Inconnue de la Seine, a story I wrote about many years ago.

(Pamela Annunziata: Instagram, Facebook)

Amedeo Capelli has created a colorful automaton in papier-mâché and wood, showing a poor skeleton condemned to a neverending escape from a fox that seems to have come out of The Little Prince. But is it really an escape, or are they just playing together? You decide, in any case the scene is exquisitely… bizarre.

(Amedeo Capelli: Instagram, Facebook)

In Christian Galli’s fantastic illustration, my shrunken head has become part of the collection of wonders of a mutant scientist who closely resembles the protagonist of The Fly.

(Christian Galli: Instagram, Facebook)

Simona Naddeo turned me into a cross between a sideshow barker and a mephistophelian Sgt. Pepper. What more could you ask for?

(Simona Naddeo: Instagram)

In this work by Midnight Mary, the horror vacui materializes in a surprising catalog of objects that we have talked about in the two seasons of the web series, but not only. Impossible not to get lost trying to identify them all!

(Midnight Mary: Instagram)

Literally everything happens in Niccolò Ferrari’s drawing: gosh, I can’t even take my little skeleton in a stroller to the park, without all hell breaking loose.

Before moving on to the winning works, an honorable mention certainly goes to Elena “Psychonoir” Simoni.
I must confess that I was startled for a moment when I first saw this post-mortem portrait, so accurate. Even more so since Elena immediately offered to send it to me: giving a person a drawing of them in a coffin would be considered in bad taste — indeed, a really shocking gift! — in a normal context.

But with Bizzarro Bazar I tried to create a space in which normality is questioned, as well as taboos and the very concept of “good taste”. For this reason, Elena’s kind gift seemed to me a gesture that was anything but disrespectful, one that is possible only on the account of a profound affinity; the kind of complicity that I’ve felt with many of those who follow my work.
And then this small portrait, on closer inspection, has its own particular sweetness. Maybe I’ll keep it, as a memento mori, above my desk…

(Elena Simoni a.k.a. Psychonoir: Instagram, Facebook)

Terzo premio

When I kicked off this blog 12 years ago, I would have thought everything except that I would become the protagonist of a detective story.
Instead, according to Ingrid Atzei, “in Italian fiction, in my opinion, a protagonist with your interests and skills could be declined in many different ways. In fact, to date, we have a whole catalog of eccentric law enforcement consultants, but we still don’t have an expert on the uncanny and… it would work so well! “

Thus, in her short story La danza, she cast me in the shoes of an “expert in oddities” who’s called to assist Commissioner Stevelli in the investigation of a series of mysterious deaths that occurred in a remote Sardinian village, and which appear to be connected to ancestral pagan rites.

You can download the PDF of Ingrid Atzei’s story (in Italian) by clicking here.

Secondo premio

Andrè Elragno Santapaola has created a small anatomical text in the literal sense of the term, whose incredible pages are made of vascularized flesh, bones, tendons, adipose masses. A visceral book that is like a glimpse into the fragility of the body and its inconceivable ravines.
There are three quotes that punctuate this Cronenbergian anthology of flesh: a sentence of mine on the concept of autopsy, a splendid passage by Gottfried Benn, author of Morgue and other Poems, and finally the verse from Ecclesiastes from which the concept of vanitas was born.
“The individual pages — as Andrè explained — were sculpted with MonsterClay and subsequently copied in white epoxy resin and painted with acrylics and oil colors. The “leather” cover was created using various layers of latex, painted with very thin layers of diluted acrylic.”

(Andrè Elragno Santapaola: Instagram, Facebook)

Primo premio

Lola specializes in the creation of themed miniatures, inspired by music, literature and the world of cinema.
For Bizzarro Bazar she composed this delightful mini-wunderkammer that is a feast for the eyes: between mandrake illustrations, movie posters, ex voto, anatomical plates, copies of the Necronomicon and vintage photos, the level of detail is amazing.
Not only has Lola miniaturized my books, but just look at that vial that seems to contain one of the fetuses from His Anatomical Majesty… an entire world collected under a glass bell.
Everything is finally sealed with a quote from one of my favorite passages by Mandiargues… truly astonishing.

(Lola miniature: Instagram)

If you liked some work in particular, be sure to show your appreciation to the authors in the comment section.
In the coming weeks I will also post these beautiful works on social networks.
Thanks again to everyone for putting a smile on my face and awe in my heart, and I hope you enjoyed it too!

Bizzarro Bazar Contest 4

Today this blog turns 12 years old! As in previous years, I’d love to celebrate by rewarding your most macabre and eccentric fantasy: get ready for the 4th Bizzarro Bazar Contest!

The rules are the same as last time:

  1. Create an original work explicitly referring to Bizzarro Bazar;
  2. Post your work on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #bizzarrobazarcontest — alternatively, you can send it by email;
  3. Deadline is September 15, 2021;
  4. Remember that the idea is to allow free rein to your weird creativity, to celebrate and above all to have fun among friends!

By “explicitly referring” to the blog I mean that Bizzarro Bazar (the website, logo, one of my books, even my beard if it comes to that) must be depicted/mentioned/included in the entry. Keep in mind that, while promoting your creations, I also want to promote this blog. Win-win.
My advise is to skim through the beautiful contributions from the first, second and third editions of the contest.

And now let’s take a look at the prizes:

1st prize: T-shirt of your choice + Mug of your choice from the official store + surprise gift
2nd prize: T-shirt of your choice from the official store + surprise gift
3rd prize: T-shirt of your choice from the official store

The best unclassified entries will be published on Bizzarro Bazar with links to the authors websites/profiles, and shared on social networks.

Have fun! Keep the World Weird!

The Anatomical Woman

I am publishing here, as a free ebook, a research that has engaged me for several years: it’s an essay on the iconographic and conceptual motif of the “dissected woman” — a rhetorical device which, starting at least from the Middle Ages up to these days, was intended to sabotage the female seductive power by breaking down / opening up the woman’s body.

I made a short video presentation in which I talk about the project (please turn on English subtitles):

And here are the links to dowload the PDF file for free:

The Anatomical Woman (English version) — 34 Mb

La donna anatomica (versione italiana) — 34 Mb

This book is free, but if you’d like to support my research you might consider making a donation through PayPal.

Mummified Penises (S02E10)

Here we are at the end of Season 2 of Bizzarro Bazar!

In this episode:  the obsession with the genitals of famous men; an incredible deformed skull; the REAL tomb of Jesus Christ.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Musei Civici di Reggio Emilia for their hospitality and for the openness with which they supported our slightly unconventional work, and in particular the extraordinary curators Georgia Cantoni, Silvia Chicchi and Riccardo Campanini: if the Museums are today a lively and always vibrant place it is thanks to their dedication and enthusiasm.

As always, this episode was directed and animated by Francesco Erba and co-produced by Erika Russo. I remind you that you can (re)watch all the episodes on my YouTube channel, where there are also other curiosities such as the one-minute Bizzarro #Shorts, and much more.

Turn on the English subtitles & enjoy!

 

Gruesome Barbers (S02E09)

In this episode of season 2 of Bizzarro Bazar: the surprising and bloody history of the barber’s profession; Spallanzani’s bizarre experiments on frogs, snails and salamanders; the mysterious Skeleton Lake.

Produced in collaboration with the Musei Civici di Reggio Emilia.
Directed & animated by Francesco Erba.