I was born in Sicily, some time ago. I attended the Liceo Rosmini in Domodossola. Then I went back to my island where I studied at the University of Catania; later I came to Bologna where I majored in orthopaedics at the Rizzoli Institute and where I worked at the same Institute for 40 years. I’m retired now. I wasn’t just a surgeon. I also took care of the wonderful world of the Rizzoli Institute, a former Olivetan monastery, with a rich and remarkable artistic heritage. I set up an office for the conservation of this heritage: health care is doubtlessly the Institute’s priority, but the monastery’s heritage is so important and had been so neglected during the previous years that it had to be absolutely preserved. In the past, questionable decisions were taken about this heritage, such as the removal of professor Putti’s operating theatre, a marvellous amphitheatre clad in Carrara marble up to a height of 5 metres, which was replaced with a modern operating room (we would never do such a thing today!). My life has been totally dedicated to spinal surgery and to the artistic heritage of the hospital. I also organised the hundredth-anniversary celebration of the Institute, in 1996.
THE RIZZOLI ORTHOPAEDIC INSTITUTE - The earliest evidence of the monastery on which site the Rizzoli Hospital is built dates back to the 12th century. At a later stage, some Olivetan monks arrived and settled down. The monastery was damaged by all kinds of wars and invasions. The memorable professor Rizzoli restored it from its pitiful conditions: he bought it as a villa legatizia, a building belonging to the Church property. Professor Rizzoli came from Milan, he was a surgeon and was very rich: he decided to leave a charitable bequest with the intent of creating an institute for the treatment of bone and joint diseases, for the glory of the Italian nation. He left his bequest to the Province of Bologna which immediately started actualizing his intent. An important surgeon from Milan was asked to set a program and, in 1896, the Institute was finally ready. The famous professor Codivilla was appointed director of the Institute: his son was sickly and he was attracted by the idea of moving to a salubrious place in the hills. Among the most remarkable personalities at the Rizzoli Institute, we can’t omit the legendary professor Putti, a man who was 50 years ahead of his colleagues. He was the son of Marcello Putti, a surgeon at the Ospedale Maggiore, and of Assunta Panzacchi, sister of the poet Enrico Panzacchi. He must be credited for launching the Rizzoli Institute onto the international scene. Another remarkable personality was professor Africo Serra, the first neurosurgeon in Bologna. He followed Codivilla to the Rizzoli Institute but came into conflict with professor Putti, also for ‘sentimental’ reasons. He left the Rizzoli Institute and founded the CTO near the Bologna railway station. Bologna started to grow its reputation as an important medical and surgical centre. Codivilla also deserves credit for separating general surgery from orthopaedics: he organized the first orthopaedic surgery congress, at the Rizzoli Institute, and created the very first department of orthopaedics separated from general surgery. Unfortunately, Codivilla died when he was still young and was succeeded by professor Vittorio Putti, a perfect blend between a man of science and a man of letters. He left to the Institute an immense book heritage with extremely rare volumes, ancient medieval codes, and cinquecentine. A curious event saw Putti involved with the case of an antique, famous and huge globe, made by an Olivetan monk around the 18th century: brought to the University, on Napoleon’s arrival in town, it remained there for many years; then Putti borrowed it, and promised he would give it back any time. Nevertheless, as soon as it was placed in the library of the Institute, the door through which it had entered was covered with a big bookshelf, preventing the globe the possibility to go out again! Here is an example of Putt’s attitude as a practical visionary: before antibiotics were discovered in the 1940s, infections and bone tuberculosis were treated in a makeshift manner. Airing for better oxygenation and the right food were considered advantageous (also because the nutrition conditions in early 20th century Italy were not ideal). For this reason, Putti bought the old mountain chalet of Franz Joseph I of Austria in Cortina d’Ampezzo and converted it into a hospital for the treatment of bone diseases. Putti was a man full of himself, extremely groomed and careful about his appearance (he was allegedly seen
change 10 outfits, one a day, in a time when the average Italian had just one dress for the summertime and another for the wintertime!), he never got married, and was in love with himself, his job and culture. His niece was the famous writer Cristina Campo: she was the daughter of Putti’s sister and of the musician Guido Guerrini; she suffered from heart disease since the early age, and she spent some time living also at the Rizzoli Institute, when she was a child. In her nice biography, written by Cristina De Stefano in 2002, Belinda e il mostro. Vita segreta di Cristina Campo (“Belinda and the monster. The secret life of Cristina Campo”), you can read about her famous uncle, a really peculiar man: it’s a very interesting book! Putti died of a heart attack in 1940. During the war, the Institute was temporarily transferred to Sant’Orsola Hospital. The library of the Rizzoli Institute is a marvellous place, with frescoes by Canuti dating back to the 17th century: it was the ancient Olivetan’s library, the only library in the world where the frescos on the vault recall the topics of the books on the shelves underneath! The studio of professor Putti, with all his books and equipment, can be seen as well. As can be Vasari’s refectory, where the monks used to have lunch and dinner: it is named after Vasari because the monks commissioned the artist three panels with food topics, in 1529. Out of the three wooden panels measuring 3 m x 2 m, today only one is in the library, another one is in the Bologna National Art Gallery, while the third one vanished without leaving any trace during the Napoleonic era! The other frescoes of the refectory feature decorations called grottesche, a form of decorative art recalling Ancient Rome and Pompeian art; their name comes from the Italian grottesco, literally “of a cave”, and is due to the fact that the first examples were found inside some caves during the archaeological excavations on the site of the Domus Aurea, in Rome.
PHOTOGRAPHY - Photography is my greatest passion. My father used to make photographs, and I was the only one, out of his four children, to follow his path. Photography is for me a form of aesthetical representation. I am constantly in search of the representation of pure beauty, both in the natural world (landscape and architectural photography) and in the women’s world (every year I attend some photography workshops in Tuscany where I have the possibility to make portraits of some professional models). I spend at least two hours a day editing my shots with my computer and keeping contacts with other photographers and friends all over the world. They often ask me to make exhibitions: but I’m not interested in the art market; I am rather intrigued by making a book where to collect all my images (and I’m getting close to that goal!). I also made pictures of my professional environment: because you can find ‘beauty’ inside a hospital as well. Beauty can be found in the representation of a sick or deformed body, at the moment when surgery restores it to a better shape. Furthermore: there are some “medical landscapes” that not everyone can see, as the interior of the operating rooms, some medical equipment, bodies waiting for an operation. These kinds of representation can upset people outside the medical environment.
Now that I’m retired I still take photographs and I work in another hospital, Villa Erbosa, where I get along really well with an excellent team of young people; I keep on teaching my profession and passing down a bit of the long experience I gained.
MIRABILIA - It was maybe a friend of mine who introduced me to Mirabilia. When I passed by, I immediately recognised Taschen books, a publishing house I really love. Thanks to my American wife and to my England-based son I’m often in touch with the British world, and I got to know many marvellous books published by Taschen as well as by Phaidon. I was struck by the architecture of the place, that looks very refined to me: also, the facade of the bookshop invites you to step in and discover it. I’m always looking for something that makes me live inside a dimension of ‘beauty’: if I look around my house, I like to be surrounded by ‘beautiful’ things! My house is full of stuff, I am not a minimalist kind of person: and many objects have been purchased in this bookshop!
A BOOK ABOUT BOOKS - The last book I bought is a work of fiction: The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez Reverte, a beautiful mystery novel set in a world of antiquarian booksellers; the movie The Ninth Gate directed by Roman Polanski was made out of it. The main character is a true book hunter; he owns an extremely rare copy of a book made by a Venetian printer of the 15th century, who was later sent to the stake, and he wants to discover if he is in possession of an original copy. He visits some important book conservators and they make few deep analyses on paper, smell, stains, engraving, revealing the ‘arcane’ world of the science of book printing and its counterfeiters. It’s a true mystery story dedicated to books and booksellers.
AN UNUSUAL AND SECRET PLACE - My “unusual and secret place” is the Neue Galerie and Café Sabarsky in Manhattan Upper East Side (New York): a small and extremely fine German and Austrian art museum whose collections and architectural design date back to the early 20th century.
After the collections, it is imperative to visit Café Sabarsky where, in an “Old Vienna” atmosphere, you can taste delicious meals topped with Viennese confectionery!