We met Professor Manfredi Fanfani, MD, a true pioneer of modern medical technology, founder of the Institute for Clinical Analysis which bears his name, located in Piazza Indipendenza in Florence, for whom art and medicine are one and the same. A proud Florentine, he is a great art connaisseur and collector, and for many other aspects an extraordinary man, cultured, curious and totally in love with the medical profession. Oriana Fallaci described him like this: “A delightful man, a true physician, a civilized, intelligent and generous person”. True words, to which we can add the gift of humility, which is present in his words, his gestures which are important for communicating with our fellows; a lesson of humility which is at the same time a great example of human and professional conduct. We asked him a few questions to get to know him better.
FROM YOUR PERSONAL HISTORY, A GREAT PASSION FOR BOTH YOUR WORK AND ART EMERGES, WOULD YOU TELL US ABOUT IT?
My passion for art and for my work is a complex one. I see art as an element of communication which brings men together. Everyone loves art, we admire and are fascinated by it.
Works of art are a method of communcation with the public, even with the ill, who perhaps prefer having objects and symbols which can keep their thoughts away from their illness, from their fears. Art is a great healing agent for the human soul as well as for the body, and art has been a precious and unique instrument for describing the history of medicine.
I’ve always thought of art as a witness, a means of communication like television is today. One may actually say that art invented even television, since before television was available, art used images to inform, to describe events, and to promote different things. Images, even artistic ones, are the most vibrant means of communication we possess, and furthermore man speaks through images, our body talk, together with, and at times, before, using words.
YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH FLORENCE? A CITY THAT HAS GIVEN YOU SO MUCH AND ALLOWED YOU TO ASSERT YOURSELF BOTH PERSONALLY AND PROFESSIONALLY…
I have not given anything to Florence. It’s the city of Florence that has given so much to me and to Florentines; its beauty and its beautiful heritage. I was born in Florence in the 20’s because my father worked for the railways. I was born here beause my parents strongly desired me to come into the world here, and moved here so I could be born in Piazza Madama, where my grandmother lived, in the heart of the city, right behind the Medici Chapels. I am proud to be a citizen of Florence, and I consider myself not only proud, but also lucky. I have had a deep, intense relationship with this city ever since I was born.
WHEN DID YOU BEGIN YOUR CAREER? SINCE THEN, HOW HAVE FLORENCE AND THE FLORENTINES CHANGED?
We began in the 50’s in via della Pergola, where at the time the sanitary center of the city was located, but it was already apparent that the centre of the city was closing off, so in the 60’s we found this building, still under construction in Piazza Indipendenza. We moved here, and were able to organize a structure compatible with the evolving modern technological criteria. The new technologies called for large spaces, the era of nuclear medicine had begun, CAT scans, MR scans.. a surge of technological evolution and revolution. I was 35, after my degree, after the war. In Florence we were the trailblazers for new technology applied to medicine. Since then, Florence and the Florentines haven’t changed much, after all. Florentines have the same dry humor, which is a key to understanding the city and its morphology. For example, we have a road named for April 27,1859, the day of a pacific Revolution in which the Florentines gathered in Piazza Indipendenza, (which was then called Piazza Maria Antonia in honor of Leopoldo’s wife, Maria Antonia di Borbone) to remove the Granduke of Tuscany (called “il Canapone” for his blond hair). This revolution, which is the real starting point of the process of Italian unity, is known to be the most peaceful one in history. The French consul was appalled! The very name of the piazza is emblematic, as the Florentines at the time refused to call it anything but “Piazza di Barbarano” the name of the orchards on which it was built. This was another way of expressing their dissent, covering the plaques which showed the “official”name of a street or a piazza, with signs showing the name preferred by the population.
A POLITICAL FIGURE YOU REMEMBER WITH CONSIDERATION?
In 1966 I invited Giorgio La Pira to visit our Institute. You must realize that modern medicine is recent history, dating from the 50’s and 60’s. I invited him to see the medical technology that was growing quickly and having positive results. He thanked me and wrote me this letter, “ Professor, It is I who must thank you. I felt such joy in seeing a place of hope, not only a medical laboratory.” I felt discouraged because I thought I had failed in making him see the new technologies! But the great message La Pira gave us was just this: the importance of human relationships and his own special concept of beauty. During the birth of modern medicine, it was necessary to be careful. Technology is only a means, what is important is the quality of human relationships he had seen here. It was a “place of hope” a place where one could be comforted by the beauty of works of art and the aura they exude. La Pira’s message became very important for me, and I have never forgotten it: technology, the new diagnostic instruments are important but you must never lose sight of human contact, attention for patients, and primarily for the person the patient is.
YOU WERE ONE OF THE CONDUCTORS OF A FAMOUS TV PROGRAM DEDICATED TO MEDICINE: “CHECK UP” WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER FROM THAT EXPERIENCE?
It was a new way of discussing medicine through television. “Check up” was born here, in these laboratories. My friend Biagio Agnes came every year for a check up and he asked me to take part in this new project, a tv program centered on medicine, which had a great success. It was the first time anything of the kind had been attempted! It was so successful that it ran for 20 years!
WHAT IS A WORK OF ART YOU WOULD ADVISE A VISITOR TO SEE IN FLORENCE? ONE YOU MUST NOT LEAVE WITHOUT HAVING SEEN?
Without a doubt, the one I showed my friend, Christian Barnard, the heart surgeon who performed the first heart transplant in 1968.
I took him to the Museo di San Marco, to see Beato Angelico’s painting, “The Miracle of the Moor’s Leg”. In the painting we see the Saints Cosma and Damiano who are transplanting the black leg of a Moor onto the white body of the sleeping Deacon Giustiniano, whose leg was gangrenous. As usual the healing happens during sleep, and the artist anticipates the concept of transplants. We see a “matula” hanging on one side of the bed, a straw container in which a glass holding the patient’s urine was kept, to show the doctor, thus showing the importance, already at that time (1395-1455) of the urine samples. The shoes of the deacon are placed by the bed, and the door is open, in anticipation of a return to normal life, a total healing. It seems probable that the deacon suffered from erispelas, a severe skin infection, which rarely healed, and usually left the stricken part with blackened skin. It was, then, a miraculous healing.
The iconographic imagination of the artist seemed to focus on the peculiarity of a transplant from a black man to a white one. I met Barnard in 1969, about a year after his first, famous transplant and he spoke to me about the difficulties he had found with the operation. He told me how in an accident, a black man had lost his life while his team was prepared, in the operating room and of how for “political” opportunity he was dissuaded from utilizing the heart of the black man and had to wait some weeks until a young white girl died to have the organ. When he saw this painting in Florence he was deeply impressed and told me that if he had seen it before, he would have probably performed the transplant regardless of the controversy.
THE 1975 FILM “AMICI MIEI” … TELL US SOMETHING OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH ITS DIRECTOR, MARIO MONICELLI
My friend Tognazzi introduced me to Monicelli, as he knew that he was looking for a doctor’s office in which to film some scenes of the movie. When Monicelli entered in my office, he said “It’s perfect!” So, the office of the Professor Sassaroli, played by Adolfo Celi in “Amici Miei” is actually my office, which still today remains exactly the same.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED?
It’s a problem I never considered, because I think that the memory one leaves behind, is what you have achieved, which can be useful for the next “steps” forward. Everything evolves, and what one has done is the basis for what will be.