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October  10, 2004 EDT
News Brief

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The Inspirational Mummy?
The Inspirational Mummy?

Italian Mummy Source of 'The Scream'?

Sept. 7, 2004 — An Inca mummy kept in a Florentine museum might have been a source of inspiration for Edvard Munch's painting "The Scream," an Italian anthropologist claims.

Bearing a striking resemblance to Munch's now stolen painting, the mummy was rediscovered as Florence's Museum of Natural History began to carry out scientific investigations such as CT scans on its collection of Peruvian mummies.


“ It"s the strong resemblance that struck us. Basically, the images of the 'The Scream' and the mummy can be overlapped. ”

"It"s the strong resemblance that struck us. Basically, the images of the 'The Scream' and the mummy can be overlapped," Piero Mannucci of Florence University told Discovery News.

The idea that Edvard Munch got his inspiration for "The Scream" from a Peruvian mummy is not new.

Already in 1978, in the exhibition catalogue "Symbols and Images of Edvard Munch," National Gallery of Art, Washington, the renowned Munch scholar Robert Rosenblum, professor of modern European art at New York University, suggested a possible link with an Inca mummy now kept at the Musée de l'Homme in Paris.

According to Rosenblum, Munch and Paul Gauguin had seen that mummy at the 1889 Trocadero exposition in Paris.

"The connection between Gauguin and Munch in Paris certainly indicates their common enthusiasm for such grotesque objects, especially appropriate to 'The Scream,'" Rosenblum told Discovery News.

Indeed, Gaugin's depiction of The Wine Harvest at Arles and several other works reflected the Parisian mummy's contorted pose, according to many scholars.

But according to Mannucci, the Paris mummy does not bear the same striking resemblance with the painting as does the Inca mummy kept in Florence's museum.

"The mummy in Paris has the fists closed on the cheeks, while our mummy has the hands open and placed on the each side of the face, just like the figure in 'The Scream,'" Mannucci said.

Apart from the strong resemblance, there isn't definitive evidence to support Mannucci's claim at present.

"It is a hypothesis based on conjectures, not really supported by documents. But we cannot ignore this great resemblance and the historical period in which the mummy came to Florence," Monica Zavattaro, curator of the museum's anthropological and ethnological department, told Discovery News.

The mummy arrived in Florence in 1883, 10 years before Munch created the first copy of "The Scream" in 1893. It was discovered a year earlier in the Peruvian Andes by an Italian doctor, Oscar Perrone.

Analysis has shown that it is the mummy of a 1.62-meter-tall man (5.3 feet) who was shot in the back in the mid 16th century.

"Documents tell us that Munch came to Fiesole, a village near Florence, in 1899. But he could as well have come to the city earlier on a private visit, invited by the physiologist and anthropologist Paolo Mantegazza, at that time director of the museum," Mannucci said.

The founder of the Italian Anthropological Society, which at that time also acted as an intellectual circle, Mantegazza had visited Norway on trip for his anthropological studies.

"It is very possible that Mantegazza and Munch, both Jewish, knew each other. I'm looking into Mantegazza's huge collection of writings to find a note mentioning a meeting between the two," Mannucci said.

He plans to discuss his findings in time for a meeting on ancient Peru planned to take place in Florence next year.

Rosenblum believes that it is very likely Munch would have not ignored the contorted poses of Peruvian mummies and their expression of despair.

"I know nothing about the Florence mummy, but I suspect there are many examples of Peruvian mummies in anthropological collection. In any case, I find it an absolutely central source for Munch's now stolen painting," Rosenblum told Discovery News.

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Pictures: Courtesy of Florence's Museum of Natural History |
Contributors: Rossella Lorenzi |

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