As the Italian philosopher and naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi lay ill in November 1603, he dictated his last will and testament — a remarkable and inspiring manifesto of scientific museology. He bequeathed his monumental collections and writings to be held in public trust so that they would be maintained for future generations of scholars. Sadly, his collections are among those now languishing in disarray in Italy (see Nature 515, 311–312; 2014).

Aldrovandi conceived the idea of a natural history museum, the first of which was created as a public institution in Bologna in 1547. He introduced the concept of a sample type for any fossil species, an idea that was expanded during his lifetime by Francesco Calzolari in Verona, Michele Mercati in Rome and Ferrante Imperato in Naples — underscoring Italy's crucial role in the birth and development of natural history museums.

We have carelessly ignored the will of a great father of museology. It is time to make amends by spurring a renaissance of these museums in Italy.