A Monstrous Birth - With an Account of the First Successful Separation of Conjoined Twins

MONSTERS. DEFORMITIES. Nuvoletti, Jacopo Pellegrino

Lettera Scritta all'illustrissimo, e reverendissimo Monsignore Ridolfo de' Contidi Montevecchio, Sopra d’ un Parto Mostruoso Nata del Territorio di Saltara Contada di Fano il di Primo Agosto M.DCC.XIII.

Fano: Per Benardino Vigolini, 1714


Quarto: 2.03 x 15 cm. [8], 47 pp. Collation: π4, A-F4. Plus folding plate.


Bound in attractive contemporary vellum. A crisp copy with wide margins. Sporadic light foxing, a few leaves lightly toned. With a folding engraved plate of the conjoined twins.

EXTREMELY RARE. Only 4 other copies located: Wellcome, Yale Medical, Bib. Nat. Vittorio Emanuele II (Rome), Bib. Nat. Naples.

A fascinating account of conjoined twins born on August 1st 1713 in Castello di Saltara in Le Marche, Italy. The twins, who were attached to each other below the chest, died on November 11th of the same year.

The plate, which shows the boys, Francesco and Domenico, from two angles, is based on the observations of Jacopo Contini, a local doctor.

The treatise is divided into three parts: 1. An account of the birth, with a detailed description of twins, 2. The author's theory as to the cause of the abnormal development of the twins; and 3. An analysis of whether or not the twins could have been separated, had they lived.

During the pregnancy, the two boys were in the same amniotic sac and shared one umbilical cord and a single placenta (both of which were larger than usual.) Their bodies were perfectly formed aside from the area from the navel up to the tip of the sternum, where they were joined together.

The story is a tragic one. Although the boys survived the ordeal of birth, the twins' parents, who were poor and hoped to profit from people's curiosity, traveled with the infants to Urbino in an effort to earn money. But the journey and the autumn weather proved too much for the twins, and although their parents returned to their village, the twins died. The elder of the two passed first, and his twin followed two hours later.

Nuvoletti relates that the doctor who had delivered the boys pleaded with the grieving parents to allow him to autopsy the dead twins, but even an offer of a substantial sum of money could not win their consent. He left in anger, justifiable anger according to Nuvoletti, who lays the blame for the twins' death at their parents' door and scoffs at their false piety.

Part II is a wide-ranging twenty-five page medical and philosophical inquiry into the origin and nature of monsters, with an emphasis on the phenomenon of conjoined twins. In the course of his investigation, Nuvoletti references to numerous medical and teratological works, including the "De Monstrorum Historia" of Fortunio Liceti.

He tells us that the twins were considered "monsters"(mostri), not in the sense of an affront to nature, but "because they were able to reveal themselves (mostrarsi) as something to be marveled at by those who were not accustomed to seeing such things." He gives numerous examples of other conjoined twins, including an "aborto bicorporeo" with only one head, and the English twins, known as the "Northumbrian monster", who lived until the age of 28. There is also an excerpt from Jean Riolan's 1604 description of pair of conjoined girls born in Paris; as well as accounts of animal deformities, including a pair of conjoined cats. Nuvoletti also tells the story of a woman who had a vision of two children with blazing eyes and was later delivered of conjoined twins. But he discounts the idea that the human imagination or will have any role in causing birth defects (noting that nature produces such deformities in other animals and in plants.)

Part III concerns the question of whether it might have been possible to separate the Saltara twins without killing them (had they lived.) There had been no attempt by the local physicians to separate them because they had no precedent to guide them and because there was a great risk that the children would not survive the attempt. However, Nuvoletti reprints an account of just such a surgery (the first successful operation to separate conjoined twins) performed in Basel in 1695 by Johannes Fatio. In that instance, the twins were girls (Elizabeth and Catherine Mayerin) but in many of the particulars the case matched that of the Saltara twins. Yet, in his commentary, Nuvoletti explains why he believes the method used by Fatio would probably not have worked in the case of the boys.