October 23, 1996

Media Contacts: Sarah Goodwin, 404/727-3366 -
Kathi Ovnic, 404/727-9371 -

What began as a dream 25 years ago -- and spent a goodly part of a year under delicate construction on the floor of a school gymnasium in Italy -- will be unveiled at Emory University Oct. 30 as the only Byzantine mosaic in the world illustrating the history of medicine.

Medicine Through the Ages: A Mosaic was designed and painstakingly pieced together by Italian-born artist Sirio Tonelli. Scenes depicting great moments in medical history are illustrated with more than two million glass-based mosaic chips in some 3,000 hues. The finely detailed mosaic rises three stories and is 68-feet-long; its 33 panels are fixed permanently in the plaza of the Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center Administration Building, Emory University, 1440 Clifton Rd., N.E., Atlanta.

The chronology begins in about 10,000 B.C. with an illustration of skull trephining -- a surgical procedure dating back to early civilization -- and ends with images of Frederick Banting (1891-1941) and Charles Herbert Best (1899-1978), the discoverers of insulin. Among the 33 scenes captured on the timeline are illustrations of Im-hotep (2900 B.C.) of Egypt, the world's first known physician; scenes of ancient Chinese medicine (2700 B.C.) based on the competing doctrines of Yin-Yang dualism and the theory of five phases; Rene T.H. Laennec (1781-1826) , the French physician and his invaluable invention, the stethoscope; Crawford W. Long (1815-1878), who in 1842 in Jefferson, Ga., was credited with the first use of ether as an anesthetic; the discoverer of radium, Marie Curie (1867-1934); and the scientists to first understand the helical structure of DNA, James D. Watson (1928-present) and Francis H.C. Crick (1916 to present).

John E. Skandalakis, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Centers for Surgical Anatomy and Technique in the Emory University School of Medicine, first conceived of the idea for the masterwork a quarter of a century ago. At that time, Dr. Skandalakis was president of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation and Mr. Tonelli had just completed the Cathedral's elaborate mosaics. The medical science history mural was, in fact, commissioned by the Centers for Surgical Anatomy and Technique.

"I have a special love for the history of medicine, so when Sirio Tonelli finished the murals in the Greek Orthodox Church 25 years ago, I thought how nice it would be to have a mural in our school that illustrates medical history," says Dr. Skandalakis, who also holds the Chris Carlos Distinguished Professorship in Surgical Anatomy and Technique at the medical school. "I placed in the plaza of WHSCAB (Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center Administration Building) statues of Hippocrates, father of medicine, and Asclepius, and busts of Hygenia, Galen and Aristotle. A medical student said to me, 'I can talk to Hippocrates and I can have some answers.' "In preparation for the mural I studied medical history, and Dr. John Stone (associate dean and director of admissions, Emory University School of Medicine) helped in the selection of the great scientists to include. Now we have the unequaled beauty of this mosaic and these giants of the past nearby to help us," Dr. Skandalakis says.

Mr. Tonelli has spent more than 40 years refining his skill in this ancient artform. He began studying the art of fresco painting and Byzantine mosaics as a young boy growing up in the Tuscany region of Italy. He must first draw his images on paper in reverse. Once the sections are mounted paper-side forward, he uses acid to remove the paper. The process is labor-intensive -- but dramatic.

For more general information on The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center, call Health Sciences News and Information at 404-727-5686, or send e-mail to

Copyright ©Emory University, 1996. All Rights Reserved.
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