|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.
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