Today, on the 230th anniversary of the death of virtuoso castrato Farinelli (1705–82), let’s make a pilgrimage to his grave, as did the authors of a study that involved exhuming him to gain insight into his biological profile.
Born Carlo Broschi, Farinelli was castrated before puberty to preserve the treble pitch of the boy’s voice into adult life, and his powerful and sweet voice became legendary. His skeleton displayed some characteristics that are probably related to the effects of castration, including long limb-bones, persistence of epiphyseal lines, and osteoporosis.
In particular, the frontal bone was affected by severe hyperostosis frontalis interna (HFI), a symmetrical thickening of the inner table of the bone. HFI is relatively common in postmenopausal women but very rare in men. In the case of Farinelli, castration was probably responsible for the onset and development of this condition.
This according to “Hyperostosis frontalis interna (HFI) and castration: The case of the famous singer Farinelli (1705–1782)” by Maria Giovanna Belcastro, Antonio Todero, Gino Fornaciari, and Valentina Mariotti (Journal of anatomy CCXIX/5 [November 2011] pp. 632–37).
Above, a portrait of Farinelli by Corrado Giaquinto; below, an excerpt from the 1994 biopic by Gérard Corbiau.