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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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Incredible and exciting good news!!!

Friends of Medical Terminology Daily:

As you know, we are part of an incredible quest to find the body of Andreas Vesalius, recognized worldwide as the Father of Modern Anatomy. His life and the story and legends about his death are part now of scientific fact and folklore.

The quest for the lost grave of Andreas Vesalius has been published in this blog several times. Many of the members of this group, such as Pascale Pollier, Theo Dirix, Dr. Sylvianne Déderix, Dr. Maurits Biesbrouck, etc. are contributors to Medical Terminology Daily.

The project has had several stages and you are welcome to follow the above links to the authors to read their contributions which clarify the scope and objectives of this quest, including Theo Dirix's article : "To put it in another way: where do we have to look for Vesalius's grave?"

Wax bust of Andreas Vesalius by Pascale Pollier Wax bust of Andreas Vesalius by Pascale Pollier. Click on the image for a larger depiction

The project next step is to perform a detailed research on the area where we suspect (actually know with a high degree of certainty) where the cemetery of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie used to be.

The problem was to obtain the permits to do the non-invasive radar scan of the grounds in the area... and this is the exciting news! Following is the press release:

"The Belgian School of Archaeology)in Athens (EBSA) just obtained the permission for a new archaeological project at Zakynthos in collaboration with the local Ephorate and Dr Merkouri, as well as the IMS in Rethymnon (Dr A. Sarris). The project, initiated and coordinated by Theo Dirix and Pascale Pollier, concerns the quest for the tomb of the Belgian anatomist, father of modern anatomy, Andreas Vesalius who died and was buried in the island."

Needless to say, we are all excited. Now we have to fund this research, and you can all help by contributing as little or as much as you can to the GoFundMe page. We are very close to our objective and this will allow us to pay the permits, rent the equipment and finally get a little closer to finding Andreas Vesalius.

Original photograph of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Zakynthos, Greece Original photograph of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Zakynthos, Greece. Click on the image for a larger depiction

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