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.

Click on the link below to subscribe to the MTD newsletter. If you think an article could be interesting to somebody else, click on the mail link at the top of each article to forward it. 

You are welcome to submit questions and suggestions using our "Contact Us" form. The information on this blog follows the terms on our "Privacy and Security Statement"  and cannot be construed as medical guidance or instructions for treatment. 

Click here to subscribe to the Medical Terminology Daily Newsletter

fbbuttons sm

We have 80 guests and no members online

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

 "Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc., and the contributors of "Medical Terminology Daily" wish to thank all individuals who donate their bodies and tissues for the advancement of education and research”.

Click here for more information

Rare & Collectible Books at AbeBooks.com


Do you want your name in a book? The Quest for the Lost Grave....

We are getting closer and closer to the objective, that is, to fund and find the lost grave of  Andreas Vesalius, recognized worldwide as the Father of Modern Anatomy. We are setting up the dates for the next phase and preparing the logistics for the crews from Crete and Belgium.

The quest for the lost grave of Andreas Vesalius continues, the permits have been obtained, and we only have the last hurdle to finish, the funding of the project trough our GoFundMe page.

Theo Dirix, a contributor to Medical Terminology Daily, now has an offer that you may like. He wrote the book "In Search of Andreas Vesalius" which relates the beginning of this Quest. The book is out-of-print today, but there are a few copies available. By donating 30 € (US$35)you'll receive one of the last available copies and you'll be mentioned in the sequel of the book that will be dedicated to the next stage of the project.

The project is private and funded by those who believe we still have an opportunity to find the lost grave. For more information, you are welcome to read Theo Dirix's article : "To put it in another way: where do we have to look for Vesalius's grave?" 

Here are some reviews for Theo Drix's book "In Search of Andreas Vesalius" :

Vivian Nutton: "I read with pleasure and wry amusement Theo’s account (..) and was reminded of reading the autobiographical account by Stephen Miller of his time as head of the American archaeological school and the boss of the Nemea excavations in the 1980s and 90s (...)

Cover of the book by Theo Dirix
Cover of the book by Theo Dirix.
Click on the image for a larger depiction

(Professor Vivian Nutton specialises in the history of the classical tradition in medicine, from Antiquity to the present, and particularly on Galen, some of whose works he has edited and translated, and on medicine during the Renaissance.)

Jacqueline Vons: " here is a book " without claim " but well documented, which is committed to tracing the research made to zakynthos by the author and a team of doctors, historians and artists to find the tomb of vesalius (1514-1564).

(Jacqueline Vons est professeur agrégé de lettres classiques, docteur ès études latines, enseignant-chercheur habilité à diriger des recherches. Elle a enseigné le latin et l'histoire de la médecine au CESR et à la faculté de Lettres de Tours et a assuré pendant plusieurs années des enseignements complémentaires en sciences humaines à la faculté de Médecine. Ses thèmes de recherche sont orientés vers l'histoire de la médecine et notamment autour d'André Vésale (éditions, traductions, transcriptions), de la pensée et des pratiques médicales en France à l'époque moderne ainsi que des textes médicaux latins centrés principalement sur l'anatomie.)

Maurits Biesbrouck: in search of Andreas Vesalius is so well researched and written, that if the further search for his grave completely shutting down (something we hope not! ) and only after a few decades be rebooted again, the perfect future researchers would know to where you came, and the wire without wasting time we can again. It is a very detailed history of the search that has already been made, a solid status and simultaneously present an extremely valuable tool for further extrapolating.

(Dr. Maurits Biesbrouck has a lifelong interest in Andreas Vesalius. He translated the first book of the De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem into Dutch, compiled an annually updated Vesalius-bibliography and wrote many articles on his life and works, many as a co-author with Omer Steeno (Leuven, Belgium) and Theodoor Goddeeris (Kortrijk, Belgium). See www.andreasvesalius.be.)

UPDATE: April 25, 2018.  Theo Dirix's new book is already published, the names of the contributors have been incorporated in the book. The title of the new book is "In Search of Andreas Vesalius The Quest for the Grave, Lost and not yet found". Dr. Miranda