The diagnosis of the cause of the death of Venerina.

Research paper by Giovanni G Mazzotti, Mirella M Falconi, Gabriella G Teti, Michela M Zago, Marcello M Lanari, Francesco A FA Manzoli

Indexed on: 09 Oct '09Published on: 09 Oct '09Published in: Journal of Anatomy


Venerina (little Venus) is the name given to a wax model representing a pregnant young woman that was created in Florence (Italy) by Clemente Susini (1754-1814) in 1782. It is currently located in the historic Science Museum of the University of Bologna. The model was constructed so as to enable removal of the thoracic and abdominal walls and various organs, exposing the heart, diaphragm and an opened uterus with a well-developed fetus. The woman is small, about 145 cm (4' 9') tall and of delicate build; she looks like a teenage girl. We know that Clemente Susini worked directly with the cadaver and copied the anatomical preparation exactly. This artist often represented the true structure using a wax mould; the existence of two other versions of this specimen suggests that this model was made in this way. Therefore, Venerina's body may be a faithful representation of a young woman who died while pregnant. Observation of the body confirms that the organs are normal, except for the heart and great vessels. The walls of both ventricles are of equal thickness and the ventricles themselves of approximately equal size. The arch of the aorta and the enlarged pulmonary trunk are connected by a short duct about 3.5 mm in diameter. If this structure represents an open arterial duct, we can deduce that the two ventricles worked under the same conditions of blood pressure, hence their equal wall thickness. If the young woman died from this congenital disease, the cause of death has been diagnosed on a wax model of her body after more than two centuries.