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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.

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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Open letter to the reluctant scientist and the Vesalius groupie

The following is an article published by Theo Dirix in his blog. He is one of the Vesalius Continuum project members and a contributor to this website. Theo Dirixis an author and a taphophile. He has successively held the office of Consul in Embassies of Belgium in Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and, since 2011, Greece. His current posting is in Kopenhagen, Denmark  Before 1989, he worked for the Flemish Radio 3 and commented on (mainly Moroccan) literature. He is constantly writing travel stories of his visits to cemeteries and graves. He is also the author of the book "In Search of Andreas Vesalius: The Quest for the Lost Grave".

“Andreas Vesalius is a rock star in well defined circles”, a friend wrote to me in an e-mail and: ”I hate disappointing people".  That is to say with the results of the upcoming crucial phase in the search for his lost grave in Zakynthos, Greece. I guess she considers all 800 friends of my Vesalius Continuum Page as members of those "well defined circles". Let me assure her, and all of you, Vesalius groupies, that nobody will be disappointed.

Potential sponsors definitely won’t. They just have to ask Agfa HealthCare Greece, that has financed the Geographical Information System of the first phase. With the amount paid, a company cannot even buy a single add in a newspaper; Agfa got dozens of adds instead, during our talks, in publications and in this paragraph.​

Neither will Vesalius groupies, even after a generous contribution to the crowd funding campaign. Beyond the pleasure of discovering a geophysical prospection, they can bid on the miniature facial reconstruction we will present here soon. Or on paintings of skulls, cells and blood; one of my mentors is already labeling his acrylic studies we will auction soon.

And finally, no scientist will. Of course, there are some who will grin if we find ... nothing, but they seem to forget that a non-discovery can be as important as a find. Many more, however, continue to encourage us. They know funerary slabs have already been found under the corner house of Kolyva/Kolokotroni in the city center, where we concentrate our search. I’ll never forget the reaction of an archaeologist when I showed her the pictures of those artefacts in Pavlos Plessas’s blog.



From pampalaia.blogspot.dk/2012/08/blog-post.html I quote:

"How many excavations would you say have taken place at this site, which could, and should, have been the focus of a universal cultural pilgrimage? As far as I know none! Unless of course the dynamites and the bulldozers that after the catastrophic earth-quakes of 1953 demolished any wall left standing and pushed it into the sea can be thought of as an archaeological dig." ​

Back to our plans: a team of four or five researchers will walk through that part of the town with a Ground Penetrating Radar device. They will drill small holes (of about one cm in diameter and twenty cm in depth) in the asphalt roads, pavements and surroundings to enter electrodes and carry out the Electrical Resistivity Tomography. To get permits for making the holes, have plans of any utility networks and carry out the fieldwork, this geophysical prospection will take five days maximum. After processing the survey, the research center IMS/FORTH, Rethymnon, will come up with a map of underground architectural remains.

How exiting is that? I'm looking forward to receiving your comments. Are you ready to register, to pledge your support ?

Personal note: Click on the following link to collaborate with this incredible quest. I already did. Dr. Miranda

GoFundMe Campaign for the next stage of the project