Today we don’t have an obscure Renaissance mathematician but rather an obscure Renaissance physician. Now on this blog this usually means that we are either in Leiden or Padua and today it’s the later. It’s an oft-repeated fact that Andreas Vesalius published his De fabrica in the same year as Copernicus his De revolutionibus leading many people to consider that year, 1543, to be the start of the so-called scientific revolution. Whatever the case maybe, Vesalius’ book marks the beginning of the Paduan school of anatomy an institution that over more than 100 years contributed immensely to the development of the life sciences in general and medicine in particular. Called to the post of personal Imperial physician shortly after the publication of his groundbreaking work Vesalius was succeeded by Realdo Colombo who achieved fame by criticising Vesalius in the same way as Vesalius had criticised Galen finding and correcting many errors in the De fabrica. He did not stay long in Padua moving first to Pisa and then to the Sapienza in Rome where he stayed in bitter enmity to Vesalius till his death. His successor in Padua was the physician Gabriella Falloppia who continued Colombo’s improvements on the work of Vesalius and who is most notable in the history of medicine for his description of the uterine tubes, which bear his name.
Falloppia was succeeded by his own pupil the splendidly named Hieronymus Fabricius ab Aquapendende the Latinised version of his Italian name Girolamo Fabrizi d’Aquapendente, which can be roughly translated as Jerry the Builder from the Waterfall.
Born in the 20th May 1537 in the town of Aquapendente Fabricius, a neo-Aristotelian, is notable in the history of the life sciences for several reasons. Firstly he changed the style of illustration in his work from the highly artistic style favoured by Vesalius and his followers to a neutral, sober scientific style. Secondly he was the first of the ‘modern’ anatomist to move away from a pure human medicine to a comparative anatomy thereby laying the foundations for the development of zoology as a modern discipline.
In his work he produced the first systematic study of the development of embryos, working on chicken embryos. In human medicine he gave the first scientific investigation and description the ‘valves’ in the interior of veins. However Fabricius was eclipsed in his work by his most famous pupil William Harvey. Harvey took up and extended his teachers work on the development of the embryo and most famously incorporated Fabricius’ work on the vein valves into his epochal work on the blood circulation. Like his teacher Harvey was a neo-Aristotelian putting a lie to the myth that the scientific revolution was a result of scientists rejecting the influence of Aristotle.
If somebody asks you why the blood doesn’t flow backwards in your veins then you can tell them that your veins are lined with small valves whose working was first described in the 17th century by Jerry the Builder from the Waterfall.