To See: Brutal and Beautiful Nature at La Specola

by The Curious Pear

Lurking behind the glass at La Specola, the intricate wonders of the natural world unfold before your eyes. Sometimes shockingly beautiful, sometimes just shocking. Weaving through the thirty-four rooms of Florence’s Museum of Natural History, visitors can drink in the infinite colours of a rare butterfly’s wing, see the brilliant blues and magenta’s of rare tropical birds, and gawp at species of fish that look like they have landed from another planet.

The museum was opened in 1771, tucked beside the grand Palazzo Pitti. Much of the collection was made up of the spoils of the Medici family, who had collected curiosities and objects of natural wonder for generations. Twenty-four of the rooms display the art of taxidermy, which preserves the magnificence of creatures from polar bears and zebras to sharks and hippopotamus. The rest of the rooms are home to Florence’s prized collection of anatomical wax sculptures, an art that captured the city in the eighteenth century. Though disturbing at times, these lifelike figures are regal somehow, frozen in time in this lavish corner of Tuscany.