The masks of Lorenzo Tenchini: their anatomy and surgical/bioengineering clues

Fulvio Barbaro, Elia Consolini, Giulia Toscani, Nicoletta Zini, Davide Dallatana, Pietro Setti, Salvatore Mosca, Giusy Di Conza, Elena Bassi, Enrico Quarantini, Marco Quarantini, Edoardo Raposio, Marina Gorreri, Alessandro Porro, Roberto Toni

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


An academic, anatomist, and Lombrosian psychiatrist active at the University of Parma in Italy at the end of the 19th century, Lorenzo Tenchini produced ceroplastic-like masks that are unique in the anatomical Western context. These were prepared from 1885 to 1893 with the aim of 'cataloguing' the behaviour of prison inmates and psychiatric patients based on their facial surface anatomy. Due to the lack of any reference to the procedure used to prepare the masks, studies were undertaken by our group using X-ray scans, infrared spectroscopy, bioptic sampling, and microscopy analysis of the mask constituents. Results showed that the masks were stratified structures including plaster, cotton gauze/human epidermis, and wax, leading to a fabrication procedure reminiscent of 'additive layer manufacturing'. Differences in the depths of these layers were observed in relation to the facial contours, suggesting an attempt to reproduce, at least partially, the three-dimensional features of the facial soft tissues. We conclude the Tenchini masks are the first historical antecedent of the experimental method for face reconstruction used in the early 2000s to test the feasibility of transferring a complete strip of face and scalp from a deceased donor to a living recipient, in preparation for a complete face transplant. In addition, the layering procedure adopted conceptually mimics that developed only in the late 20th century for computer-aided rapid prototyping, and recently applied to bioengineering with biomaterials for a number of human structures including parts of the skull and face. Finally, the masks are a relevant example of mixed ceroplastic-cutaneous preparations in the history of anatomical research for clinical purposes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1036-1044
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Issue number6
Early online dateOct 21 2019
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • additive layer manufacturing
  • bioengineering
  • ceroplastics
  • face transplant
  • facial reconstruction
  • surface anatomy


Dive into the research topics of 'The masks of Lorenzo Tenchini: their anatomy and surgical/bioengineering clues'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this