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The Rizzoli Institute during the Great War

Located in Bologna, a strategic point in the rear of World War I, the Rizzoli Orthopaedic Institute received huge numbers of injured and mutilated soldiers from the battlefront. Even the majestic library was rearranged to welcome hospitalized soldiers. In the years 1915-18 the history of the Rizzoli Institute was thus intertwined with the history of the Great War.

Immagine biblioteca durante prima guerra mondiale
The central room of the library used as a hospital ward during the First World War

The war highlighted the problem of regranting autonomy and employability to mutilated soldiers arriving from the battlefront; to this aim Vittorio Putti, director of the Rizzoli from 1915, started studying the concept of “cinematic amputation” of the stump, made suitable for the application of prostheses, and of the mechanic system governing the joint of the artificial limb, with the objective of restoring the mutilated soldiers’ hopes for a life as normal as possible. The activity of the Rizzoli Orthopaedic Factories also boosted, and their craftsmen were requested an intense production of prostheses and aids.

The legacy of such extraordinary commitment at the time is an important historical-archival patrimony, which the Institute intends to valorize to highlight the events of those years, through the participation to exhibitions and cultural happenings, in addition to a project for the recovery and valorization of its own historical archive. It contains approximately 3.500 clinical charts, dated between 1915 and 1922. Each chart tells the story of a soldier, and is composed of the medical material related to the anamnesis, photographs, paintings, a journal of the event leading to the injury, in addition to the description and the material of the prostheses. Such inestimable historical legacy is a unicum at the national and international level, both because it mirrors the activity of a great cure and research Institutions, and by having reached our days without undergoing damage or interventions altering its original asset.

 Photograph of a soldier hospitalized at the Rizzoli - Historical photographic archive of the Rizzoli Orthopaedic Institute

Among the most recent initiatives, we list:

  • A collaboration with the Film Library of Bologna, for the recovery and digitalization of video material on the Rizzoli in the assistance of mutilated and disabled WWI soldiers;
  • The realization of the exhibition “Il Fronte in Corsia. Il Rizzoli nella retrovia della Grande guerra” (“The battlefront at the ward. The Rizzoli Institute in the rear of the Great War”) held at the City Library “Archiginnasio” of Bologna (November 25th-December 31st, 2017);
  • The participation, with property material and documents, to exhibitive events realized on the occasion of the centennial of the Italian involvement in World War I (2015-2018).

Attached videos and documents

Il Rizzoli nella Grande Guerra
Durante la Prima Guerra Mondiale il Rizzoli di Bologna divenne uno dei principali centri di cura e riabilitazione dei soldati con gravi mutilazioni. Filmato restaurato dalla Cineteca di Bologna.