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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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Bartolomeo Eustachius


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.

Bartolomeo Eustachius (c1500 - 1574) Italian physician and anatomist, also known as Bartholomew Eustachius, he was born in the small town of San Severino Marche, in the province of Macerata, central Italy. His father was a respected physician, and may have attended as a student the University of Sapienza, where he later taught as a professor of practical medicine. Eustachius’ life is mostly unknown and some of his works remained hidden for over 150 years. His birth date is only an estimate and data varies from c1500 AD to c1510 AD.

It is known that Eustachius lived and worked in Rome from 1549 to 1574. He was both an anatomist and a physician to the Vatican.  As an anatomist, Eustachius is credited for having been the first to prepare anatomical images for printing using copper plates.

As a hospital physician, Eustachius was adamant on the need of autopsies on patients who died at the hospital, crediting him with being one of the first pathological anatomists.

Eustachius
Eustachius’ is credited with several anatomical discoveries, which he published in short monographs, on topics like the kidneys, the suprarenal glands (which he was the first to describe), the movements of the head, the azygos vein, etc. One of these was entirely dedicated to dentistry, “Libellus de Dentibus”, which have led to some to call Eustachius “The Father of Dental Anatomy”.

Eustachius dedicated himself to prepare a number of anatomical copper plates, apparently getting ready to publish a book to rival Vesalius’ “Fabrica”. It is known that Eustachius disliked Vesalius because of Vesalius’ contempt for the teachings of Galen. Eustachius died before completing his work and the copper plates were forgotten for over a century. After being rediscovered, these plates were published with commentaries by anatomists, until a final publication in Latin by Bernard Siegfried Albinus (1697 – 1770) entitled “Explicatio Tabularum Anatomicarum Bartholomaei Eustachii Anatomici Summi” (An explanation of the Anatomical Picture of Bartholomew Eustachius, Supreme Anatomist”.

Besides the suprarenal gland, Eustachius is credited for having discovered the stapes, the tensor tympani muscle, the valve of the inferior vena cava, the cervical sympathetic chain and the thoracic duct.

Interesting note: Eustachius’ assistant Petrus Matthaeus Pinus, who helped develop the copper plates, voiced his master’s dislike of Vesalius in a poem that was published by Albinus over a hundred years after the death of all of them, it is also an epitaph for a great anatomist:

“Just as the Master from Pergamon (Galen)
Teaching his method of healing, once refuted
The false writings of the ignorant Thessalus,
So also my BARTOLO (Eustachius)
Teaching his method of denoting every detail, position,
Shape, structure, order, number and condition
Has repulsed the shameless arrogance and claims
Of the impudent Vesalius
To him (Eustachius) all future generations 
Adhere In reverential admiration
The age to come will envy us on account of you Father,
And historians will wish they had lived sooner
They will extol our era, through you fortunate,
Lucky beyond measure"

Sources:  
1. "The root of dental anatomy: a case for naming Eustachius the "Father of Dental Anatomy"" Bennett, G (2009) J Hist Dent (1089-6287), 57 (2) 85 -88
2. “The papal anatomist: Eustachius in renaissance Rome” Simpson, D, ANZ J Surg (2011) 81: (12)905 -910
3. “Bartholomeo Eustachio – The Third Man: Eustachius Published by Albinus” Fahrer, M. (2003) ANS J Surg; 73: 523- 528
4. "Bartolommeo Eustachio; a great medical genius whose masterpiece remained hidden for 150 years" Wells, WA Arch Otolaring (1925) 48: 58

Original image courtesy of: nlm.nih.gov