The Palazzo Poggi Museum did not originate from collections accumulated over time. Its unique feature consists in being a re-composition of the laboratories and collections from the old Istituto delle Scienze, founded by Luigi Ferdinando Marsili (1658-1730), which was housed in the rooms of Palazzo Poggi from 1711 to 1799.
The Istituto delle Scienze was the first public scientific institution devoted to research and scientific education according to a methodology of direct observation and laboratory experimentation. Because of its state-of-the-art instruments and methodologies as well as the fields of research it pursued ranging from natural history, to archeology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, anatomy, mathematical and rational mechanical applications, the Istituto delle Scienze constituted a sort of “encyclopedia of the senses” for European scientists.
Additional attractions housed in the Institute were the Wunderkammer that belonged to Ferdinando Cospi (1606-1686) as well as Ulisse Aldrovandi’s collection (1522-1605). Another feature that distinguished the Istituto from other scientific academies was the artistic value of its setting. In fact Palazzo Poggi held the most prestigious 16th century paintings in the Po valley area, including mural paintings by Niccolò dell’Abate, Pellegrino Tibaldi, Prospero Fontana, Nosadella and Ercole Procaccini.
When the Napoleonic reforms were enforced for academies and universities, the extremely valuable assets of the Istituto delle Scienze were divided up among the laboratories of the different departments of the university. Later they became the historical core of the Accademia delle Belle Arti, the Museo Civico Archeologico and the Musei Civici d’Arte Antica.
In addition to making the rooms of the 16th century palazzo that during the 18th century had housed the Istituto delle Scienze accessible to the public again, in the Autumn of 2000 the University of Bologna restored the building to its historical functions. Rooms that for many years had been used as offices and storage spaces were returned to their original function as containers of 18th century scientific instruments, equipment and collection specimens.