Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Andrea Cesalpino (ca. 1520–1603)

Portrait of Andrea Cesalpino flanked by his works

Of the three 16th century Italian anatomists who advanced our knowledge about the pulmonary circulation, Andrea Cesalpino is perhaps the least known. Unlike Michael Servetus (c. 1511–1553) he was not burned at the stake for heresy. Unlike Realdo Colombo (c. 1515–1559) he did not carry out thousands of dissections and work with Michelangelo, and unlike the Muslim scholar Ibn al-Nafis (1213–1288), who wrote the best treatise on this subject, he did not have to wait many centuries to have his manuscript discovered and translated from Arabic.

Caesalpino’s main interest seems to have been botany. He classified plants and had a species named after him. He was the director of the botanical gardens in Pisa and perhaps also in Rome. Like many other Renaissance polymaths he did not limit his interests to one discipline. He is said to have been a profound thinker and a man of genius. He wrote about philosophical subjects, about Aristotle and Averroes. He also studied mineralogy and geology and had a good knowledge of fossils.

Having studied in Pisa under Realdo Colombo, he received his doctorate in 1551, became lecturer in medicine in 1551 and chair of medicine from 1569 to 1592. Late in life he was to become professor of medicine at the papal university in Rome and physician to Pope Clement VIII. He did not carry out many dissections but wrote on the heart, chest, and on syphilis.

Cesalpino regarded the heart as the center of the circulation; described in detail the anatomy of the aorta, vena cava, and cardiac valves; stressed the differences between peripheral arteries and veins; and suggested there may be small connecting channels between them. By applying tourniquets to the arm he concluded that blood flowed towards the heart and that it first passed through the lungs. He was first to use the term circulation, but developed a theory that fell short of postulating a complete circulatory system. His medical publications included Quæstionum peripateticarum and Quaestionum medicarum libri duo (1593).

GEORGE DUNEA, MD, Editor-in-Chief

Fall 2017



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