The practice of anatomical wax modelling originated in the Italian university centres of Florence and Bologna, with documented prototypes created by the Florentine Mannerist sculptor Lodovico Cardi 'Il Cigoli' (1559-1613) and Gaetano Zumbo (1656-1701). The 18th century saw an increase in the production and use of anatomical waxes as a means to train doctors, surgeons and midwives. Bologna and its eminent university were at the forefront of this movement, producing masters in this skill such as Ercole Lelli (1702-66) and Giovanni Manzolini (1700-55). It was their work that inspired the Florentine sculptors at La Specola, who were driven by the efforts of the surgeon Giuseppe Galletti.
With its philosophical rather than anatomical focus, the present head appears to have been intended for a vanitas context and may have been kept in a cabinet of curiosities. An analogous, though non-Italian, head is in the Wellcome Collection, London (inv. no. 240/1942). The inscription on the banner quotes the title of a seminal treatise on human anatomy by Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), first published in 1543.
M. von During, M. Poggesi, G. Didi-Huberman, Encyclopaedia Anatomica, Museo La Specola Florence, Cologne, 2004