Described as “the Archimedes of our century” (in the 17th century), Manfredo Settala was kind of an odd duck. A cleric and the son of a physician in Milan, he collected various scientific oddities. His gallery was classified and separated into three sections – objects provided to man by nature, creations of man, and curiosities. At one point, his collection was so famous for its’ rarities that princes, queens, and dukes sought the gallery out for their own viewing amusement.
Settala was also fascinated by the concept of monsters – probably like everyone else reading this blog. An inventor himself, he created gear-powered automatons (referred to as Settala’s Devil) which he placed at the entrance of his cabinet of curiosities – perfect for guarding his collection of hippo skulls, mummies, and trick mirrors. In seventeenth century Italy, wood carved automatons like this one were more common than you’d think – they made faces, rolled their eyes, and stuck their tongues out. Some even could breathe smoke through their nostrils like one of those little robot toys you had as a kid.
Was it the first Halloween prop ever? We’d like to think so. Unfortunately for the haunt community, the truth is often stranger than fiction – just the work of a freaky Italian cleric who hand-built wooden devils in order to scare the visitors to his famous cabinet of curiosities.