Vincenzo Neri's biography and legacy

Vincenzo Neri (1880-1961) was an Italian neurologist. He was a pupil of Giuseppe Dagnini (1866-1928) in Bologna and Joseph Babinski (1857-1932) in Paris. In 1906, he graduated in Bologna, and a year later went to Milan, Rome, and Naples in order to learn and improve his clinical knowledge in the neurological field. In 1908, he moved to Paris — then the most active and important center in the field of neurological research.

Since starting his studies, but also as a clinician (at first in Paris, around 1908-1910, then in Bologna as a neurological consultant at the Rizzoli Orthopedic Institute and in 1911 as founder of the Villa Baruzziana Clinic for Nervous Diseases), Neri gave great attention to neurological semeiotics, which is to say to the observation and study of the objective expressions (signs) of diseases.

The symptoms of the diseases that he isolated and described (“Neri’s signs”), as seen in the frames and photos that came from his clinical studies, were quoted and used in important research articles of the time (such as the Sémiologie Nerveuse, 1911). In 1910, he published his first monograph, Le Disbasie Psichiche [Psychic Dysbasia] , which was the result of research carried out in Paris and Bologna. Here, he paid particular attention to those signs that allowed him to note differences between functional and pathological walking or gait.

Vincenzo Neri and the use of medical cinematography

Vincenzo Neri applied cinematography to his clinical researches for 50 years, starting in 1908. He filmed patients from the Bicêtre, La Pitié, and La Salpêtrière clinics in Paris and used the cinematographic medium in his private neurologic clinic, called the Villa Baruzziana, and as a consultant neurologist at the Rizzoli Orthopedic Institute in Bologna. His research focused on peripheral and neuromuscular disorders and degenerative neurological diseases.

Cinematographic, chrono-photographic and photographic methods characterized the entirety of Neri’s research. He combined Babinski’s semeiotics with Etienne-Jules Marey’s (1830-1904) practices, using graphs, schemes, photos, and films for analytical purposes and in order to create a wider scientific archive. Neri’s filming protocols derived from chrono-photographic practices and clinical habits, which included frontal and lateral walks, specific movements and actions, the use of x, y, and z axes, and of other orientational elements on the scene, circumscription of the shooting area, reference signs, and elements on patient’s bodies and articulations. The complex articulation of all of these different practices led to the construction of an extremely heterogeneous archive, which is made up of documents that belong to three different basic categories: cinematographic material, photographic material, and typographic clichés.