Gaetano Giulio Zumbo

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Wax statues depicting effects of the plague, La Specola, Florence

Gaetano Giulio Zumbo (1656–1701) was an Italian sculptor in wax or wax modeller of the Baroque era. His main talents are not those generally considered as an artistic, but would now be viewed as the creation of scientific models, but they were highly regarded as curiosity pieces in his time. He has also been called an anatomist.

He was born in Siracusa, Italy, and showed an entirely self-taught inclination to sculptural arts and anatomy. Not familiar with chiseling, he learned to model colored wax. This led to his patronage by the Grand Duke of Tuscany in Florence, for whom he created a series of five morbid models, almost a memento mori, depicting the progressive Corruption after death, beginning with a dying man, followed by a corpse, a corpse just starting to decompose, half corrupt, another completely corrupt, and finally eaten by worms. Once displayed in the Medici gallery, it was later transferred to the cabinet of natural history and zoological specimens (now displayed in the Section of the Natural History Museum called La Specola). Zumbo left Florence for Genoa. There he completed wax sculptures: a Nativity and a Deposition. He made a partnership with a French Surgeon called Desnoues, and with him completed a number of anatomic studies including a woman who died while in childbirth. With Denoues, he travelled to Paris, and there presented to the Academy of Sciences, a wax sculpture of the head with naturalistic depiction of veins, arteries, nerves, glands, and muscles.[1]

Similar work by Giuseppe Salerno is in the Sansevero Chapel in Naples, Italy.

The central character of the novel Secrecy (2013) by Rupert Thomson, is based on Zumbo.[2]


  1. ^ Boni, Filippo de' (1852). Biografia degli artisti ovvero dizionario della vita e delle opere dei pittori, degli scultori, degli intagliatori, dei tipografi e dei musici di ogni nazione che fiorirono da'tempi più remoti sino á nostri giorni. Seconda Edizione.. Venice; Googlebooks: Presso Andrea Santini e Figlio. p. 1109.
  2. ^ Rupert Thomson, " Fugitive Pieces", Financial Times, March 1, 2013, accessed 15 March 2014.