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Medical Terminology Daily (MTD) is a blog sponsored by Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc. as a service to the medical community, medical students, and the medical industry. We will post a workweek daily medical or surgical term, its meaning and usage, as well as biographical notes on anatomists, surgeons, and researchers through the ages. Be warned that some of the images used depict human anatomical specimens.

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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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Interesting discovery in an Ex-Libris

For centuries, book owners and collectors have used bookplates to identify their books and their collections, a tradition that seems to be falling in disuse. Not me, I have one that you can see here.

Bookplates (also known as Ex-Libris) can be a tantalizing study, and finding an interesting one is part of what makes an old book a journey of discovery. Every detail in an old book is important. Who owned it? What is their story? Did they leave personal notes within the pages of the books? I have found prescriptions, personal notes, medical shopping lists, and in some cases corrections to the book itself! One of the most interesting cases of this is Vesalius' Annotated Fabrica!

Bookplates are personal. In many cases, they depict the coat of arms of the owner’s family, sometimes a motto that drove the book’s owner, and in some cases a humorous jab at something. They are very personal.

While researching my series of articles on Dr. Ephraim McDowell, I ordered the book “EPHRAIM MCDOWELL, FATHER OF OVARIOTOMY AND FOUNDER OF ABDOMINAL SURGERY. With an Appendix on JANE TODD CRAWFORD”. By AUGUST SCHACHNER, M.D. Cloth, 8vo.A p. 33I. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott CO., I921. A great book, I finished reading it overnight!. Dr. McDowell has also been featured in this blog in the series "A Moment in History"

What interested me was the bookplate on the book frontis, a picture of which I placed in this article. It is from the Library of the Medical and Chirurgical faculty of the State of Maryland, and has a legend that states "Purchased through the William Osler Testimonial fund for the advancement of Medicine”. It depicts a physician (probably Hippocrates) taking the pulse of a patient.

Osler MedChi Ex-Libris
Osler MedChi Ex-Libris
Click on the image for a larger depiction

Further research indicated that this bookplate was created to honor Sir William Osler by the Maryland State Medical Society and that Dr. Osler’s books never had personal bookplates. MedChi (Maryland State Medical Society) commissioned this plate that depicts the four seals of the universities with which Osler was affiliated: McGill in Montreal, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and Oxford in England. The images are flanked by two rods of Asclepius.This Ex-Libris was designed and drawn by Max Brödel (1870 – 1941) a famous medical illustrator who worked at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore and illustrated for Harvey Cushing, William Halsted, Howard Kelly, and other notable clinicians. Brödel was a personal friend of Osler. The bookplate was such a hit that doctors from all over the country requested copies of it, which the librarian at the time Ms. Marcia Crocker Noyes,  sent but with the request of receiving the requestor’s own bookplate. You can see all of them in the attached links in the "Sources" section. Interestingly, Ms. Marcia Crocker Noyes has been suspected of still haunting the library where she worked!!

An old book is important not only because of its content, but also because of its provenance. You know where you are going to start reading it, but you never know where are you going to end in researching it. Dr. Miranda.

Sources:
1. Ex Libris: The Bookplate Collection, Part I MedChi
2. Happy Birthday, Sir William! MedChi
3. The bookplate that never was McGill University
4. The Osler Library of the History of Medicine: McGill's Medical Memory. Lyons C Mcgill J Med. 2011 Jun; 13(1): 90.
5. The MedChi Collection of Bookplates
 
6. Max Brödel & MedChi