For numerous travelers, Naples is the darkest gem of the Old Continent, concealing in its streets countless artifacts of a macabre nature. With skulls, bones, petrified saints, and holy blood, the iconography of death seems to have spread everywhere. Moreover, Naples is paved with obscure legends. Behind every door, under each alcove, vivid tales linger on, tangling together the Italian aristocracy, exalted quests for knowledge, and, of course, cold blooded murders. Included in these is the story of the Anatomical Machines.
Located in the basement of the Sansevero Chapel in the historic district of Naples, the bodies of two people, a man and a woman, stand in an elaborate display. Their skin and their muscles are gone, leaving them open and naked. Yet they proudly present their vascular systems, their skeletons, and some of them inner organs.
It’s evident that our couple is not an object of devotion, so their dramatic internal nudity in one of the most sumptuous chapels in town is paradoxical. Who are these two people and why is their anatomy displayed in this sacred place?
Measurements: L. 22 11/16 in. (57.7 cm); W. 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm)
This flaying knife (Tibetan: triguk; Sanskrit: kartrika) is styled in the Indian manner—with a long, hooked steel blade for both butchering and flaying. A vajra, symbol par excellence of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, forms the handle.
The lower “thunderbolt” emblem metamorphoses into a wide-jawed sea monster (makara), from which issues the blade, finely damascened with gold and silver and displaying an interlacing floral design.
Workshops in the region of Derge, Kham Province, in eastern Tibet, excelled in such fine metalworking techniques, providing the probable source for this knife.