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A Moment in History 

Title page of Anathomia Corporis Humanis by Mondino de Luzzi. Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine
Title page of "Anathomia Corporis Humanis" by Mondino de Luzzi

Alessandra Giliani

 
(1307 – 1326

Italian prosector and anatomist. Alessandra Giliani is the first woman to be on record as being an anatomist and prossector. She was born on 1307 in the town of Persiceto in northern Italy.

She was admitted to the University of Bologna circa 1323. Most probably she studied philosophy and the foundations of anatomy and medicine. She studied under Mondino de Luzzi (c.1270 – 1326), one of the most famous teachers at Bologna.

Giliani was the prosector for the dissections performed at the Bolognese “studium” in the Bologna School of Anatomy. She developed a technique (now lost to history) to highlight the vascular tree in a cadaver using fluid dyes which would harden without destroying them. Giliani would later paint these structures using a small brush. This technique allowed the students to see even small veins.

Giliani died at the age of 19 on March 26, 1326, the same year that her teacher Mondino de Luzzi died.  It is said that she was buried in front of the Madonna delle Lettere in the church of San Pietro e Marcellino at the Hospital of Santa Maria del Mareto in Florence by Otto Agenius Lustrulanus, another assistant to Modino de Luzzi.

Some ascribe to Agenius a love interest in Giliani because of the wording of the plaque that is translated as follows:

"In this urn enclosed are the ashes of the body of 
Alessandra Giliani, a maiden of Persiceto. 
Skillful with her brush in anatomical demonstrations 
And a disciple equaled by few, 
Of the most noted physician, Mondino de Luzzi, 
She awaits the resurrection. 
She lived 19 years: She died consumed by her labors 
March 26, in the year of grace 1326. 
Otto Agenius Lustrulanus, by her taking away 
Deprived of his better part, inconsolable for his companion, 
Choice and deservinging of the best from himself, 
Has erected this plaque"

Sir William Osler says of Alessandra Giliani “She died, consumed by her labors, at the early age of nineteen, and her monument is still to be seen”

The teaching of anatomy in the times of Mondino de Luzzi and Alessandra Giliani required the professor to be seated on a high chair or “cathedra” from whence he would read an anatomy book by Galen or another respected author while a prosector or “ostensor” would demonstrate the structures to the student. The professor would not consider coming down from the cathedra to discuss the anatomy shown. This was changed by Andreas Vesalius.

The image in this article is a close up of the title page of Mondino’s “Anothomia Corporis Humani” written in 1316, but published in 1478. Click on the image for a complete depiction of this title page. I would like to think that the individual doing the dissection looking up to the cathedra and Mondino de Luzzi is Alessandra Giliani… we will never know.

The life and death of Alessandra Giliani has been novelized in the fiction book “A Golden Web” by Barbara Quick.

Sources 
1. “Books of the Body: Anatomical Ritual and Renaissance Learning” Carlino, A. U Chicago Press, 1999 
2. “Encyclopedia of World Scientists” Oakes, EH. Infobase Publishing, 2002 
3. “The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science”Harvey, J; Ogilvie, M. Vol1. Routledge 2000 
4. “The Evolution of Modern Medicine” Osler, W. Yale U Press 1921 
5. “The Mondino Myth” Pilcher, LS. 1906 
Original image courtesy of NLM
 


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Don Antonio de Gimbernat y Arbós


This article is part of the series "A Moment in History" where we honor those who have contributed to the growth of medical knowledge in the areas of anatomy, medicine, surgery, and medical research.To search all the articles in this series, click here.

UPDATED: Don Antonio de Gimbernat y Arbós (1734-1816). Spanish anatomist and surgeon. His complete name was Don Manuel Luis Antonio de Gimbernat y Arbós. He was born to a farmer’s family in 1734 in Cambrils (Tarragona), in what today is Catalu?a. Gimbernat studied Latin and Philosophy at the University of Cervera, continuing his studies at the School of Surgery in C?diz, where he graduated in 1762.

Gimbernat joined the Spanish Navy, but because of this capabilities, in 1765 he was offered the position of Anatomy Professor at the Royal School of Surgery in Barcelona. In 1768 he made an anatomical discovery that would render him immortal: he demonstrated the presence of the lacunar ligament. Furthermore he applied his knowledge of this ligament to improve on the surgical technique to reduce a strangulated femoral hernia. Gimbernat also discovered the lymph node found in the femoral ring (later to be known as Cloquet’s or Rosenmueller’s node)

In 1774 Gimbernat traveled through Europe to learn the latest surgical techniques. This trip was sponsored by King Carlos III. During his stay in London Gimbernat studied with John Hunter (1728 – 1793). In an attitude not common for a student at the time, at the end of one of Hunter's anatomical lectures on hernia, Gimbernat asked to go to the cadaver and demostrate his findings. With approval of the teacher, he demonstrated for Hunter the lacunar ligament as well as his strangulated femoral hernia technique. Hunter watched the demonstration and at the end of it he just said "You are correct, sir".

Don Antonio de Gimbernat i Arb?s

Hunter was so impressed that from that day on he referred to the lacunar ligament as “Gimbernat’s ligament" and adopted his surgical technique. Gimbernat also showed Hunter his studies and technique to repair diaphragmatic hernias.

Manuel Gimbernat participated in the creation of the Spanish Royal School of Surgery, became a professor of surgery and  orthopedics, and in 1789 he was named First Royal Surgeon and president of all the surgical schools in Spain.

In 1793, Gimbernat published his “ Nuevo M?todo de Operar en la Hernia Crural” dedicated to King Charles IV,  which was translated as “A New Method of Operating for the Femoral Hernia”, into English in 1795.

In 1803 the Spanish king Carlos IV commissioned Don Francisco Javier de Balmis i Berenguer (1753 – 1819), a Spanish phyisician, to find a solution to the smallpox problem in the Spanish colonies in South America. While planning what was later to be known as the “Royal Philanthropic Vaccine Expedition” Balmis received critical contributions from Don Manuel Gimbernat.

All of his titles and positions were removed by King Fernando VII because Gimbernat was a supporter of Napoleon during his invasion of Spain in 1808.  Sick, poor, blind, and with ailing mental faculties, Don Manuel Gimbernat died in Madrid on November 17, 1816.

Gimbernat was also a pioneer in ophthalmology, vascular surgery and urology. As for his incredible anatomical dissection capabilities, Gimbernat often said “mi autor m?s favorito es el cadaver humano" (my favorite author is the human body”

Personal note: My thanks to Dr. Bueno-López for his correction of the name of Gimbernat: "Although don Antonio de Gimbernat y Arbós was born in a town in Catalonia, Spain, he never wrote his name nor his contemporaries did, with the particle 'i' between his two family names (in the manner of the Catalan language) but with particle 'y' in the way of the Spanish language". There are many articles where Gimbernat's last name is written "Gimbernat i Arbos" (see link #3 on the Source section) which according to Dr. Bueno-L?pez is incorrect. To read the article co-authored by Dr. Bueno-López on Gimbernat (#6 in our Sources section) click here.

Sources:
1. “Manuel Antonio de Gimbernat y Arbós. 1734-1816” Trauma (2012) 23: (1)
2. ” Gimbernat y Arbós, Antonio de (1734-1816) Loukas M et al World J Surg 2007; 31: 855-7
3. “Ep?nimos m?dicos: Ligamento de Gimbernat” Febrer JLF 1999
(Link) 
4. “Antonio de Gimbernat (1734- 1816). Anatomist and surgeon” Puig-LaCalle J, Mart?-Pujol R. Arch Surg 1995; 130: 1017- 20
5. “Antonio de Gimbernat, 1734-1816” Matheson NM. Proc R Soc Med 1949; 42: 407-10.
6. "Antonio Gimbernat y Arbós: An Anatomist-surgeon of the Enlightenment (In the 220th Anniversary of his ‘‘A New Method of Operating the Crural Hernia’" Arraez-Aybar LA, Bueno-Lopez JL. Clin Anat (2013) 26:800–809