Skip to main content
Select Source:

Morgagni, Giovanni Battista

MORGAGNI, GIOVANNI BATTISTA

(b. Forlì, Italy, 25 February 1682; d. Padua, Italy, 5 December 1771)

medicine, anatomy, pathological anatomy.

Morgagni was the son of Fabrizio Morgagni and Maria Tornielli. After completing his early studies at Forlì, in 1698 he went to Bologna, where he attended the university, taking the degree in philosophy and medicine in 1701. His principal university teachers were Antonio Maria Valsalva and Ippolito Francesco Albertini, both former pupils of Malpighi, who trained him in Malpighi’s methods and in the rational medicine that follows from them. Having received his degree, Morgagni remained in Bologna to work in the three hospitals of that city and carry out further anatomical studies with Valsalva.

Morgagni was admitted to the Accademia degli Inquieti in 1699 and became its head in 1704. He reformed the academy on the model of the Paris Académie Royale des Sciences and accepted an invitation to hold meetings in the mansion belonging to Luigi Ferdinandino Marsili, thus paving the way for its incorporation into the Istituto delle Scienze that was founded by Marsili in 1714. It was to the Inquieti that Morgagni in 1705 communicated his Adversaria anatomica prima, which he also dedicated to them. The Adversaria was published in Bologna in 1706 and earned Morgagni international fame as an anatomist.

At the beginning of 1707 Morgagni moved to Venice, where he stayed through May 1709. Venice offered him the opportunity to study chemistry with Gian Girolamo Zanichelli, to investigate the ana-tomical structure of the great fishes, and to secure a number of rare and choice books. He also conducted a number of dissections of human cadavers with Gian Domenico Santorini, who was at that time dissector and lector in anatomy at the Venetian medical college. In June 1709 Morgagni returned to Forli, where he practiced medicine with great success. In September 1711 he was called to the second chair of theoretical medicine at Padua University; the chair had become vacant when Antonio Vallisnieri was promoted to the first chair, following the death of Domenico Guglielmini. Morgagni delivered his inaugural lecture, Nova institutionum medicarum idea, on 17 March 1712. He was appointed to the first chair of anatomy at Padua in September 1715 and began teaching that subject on 21 January 1716. He held this post until his death. Morgagni’s teaching was always clear and gave the impression of a perpetually fresh mind.

The Adversaria anatomica prima is a series of researches on fine anatomy conducted according to the tradition established by Malpighi, although Morgagni showed greater caution in the use of the microscope and in making anatomical prepa-rations. Morgagni’s profoundly inquiring intellect is apparent in even this early work. Despite the modesty of its title—“Notes on Anatomy”—Morgagni’s book actually records a whole succession of discoveries regarding minute organic mechanisms, including the glands of the trachea, of the male urethra, and of the female genitals. These represent new contributions to the mechanical interpretation of the structure of the organism, as do the descriptions contained in Morgagni’s five subsequent Adversaria (1717–1719), Epistolae anatomicae duae (published in Leiden by Boerhaave in 1728), and Epistolae anatomicae duodeviginti on Valsalva’s writings (1740).

Morgagni’s most important work, however, is his De sedibus et causis morborum per anatomen indagatis of 1761. This book grew out of a concept of Malpighi, which Morgagni then developed into a major work. The concept may be stated simply as the notion that the organism can be considered as a mechanical complex. Life therefore represents the sum of the harmonious operation of organic machines, of which many of the most delicate and minute are discernible, hidden within the recesses of the organs, only through microscopic examination.

Like inorganic machines, organic machines are subject to deterioration and breakdowns that impair their operation. Such failures occur at the most minute levels, but, given the limits of technique and instrumentation, it is possible to investigate them only at the macroscopic level, by examining organic lesions on the dissecting table. These breakdowns give rise to functional impairments that produce disharmony in the economy of the organism; their clinical manifestations are proportional to their location and nature.

This thesis is implicit in the very title De sedibus et causis morborum per anatomen indagatis. In this book Morgagni reasons that a breakdown at some point of the mechanical complex of the organism must be both the seat and cause of a disease or, rather, of its clinical manifestations, which may be conceived of as functional impairments and investigated anatomically. Morgagni’s conception of etiology also takes into account what he called “external” causes, including environmental and psychological factors, among them the occupational ones suggested to Morgagni by Ramazzini.

The parallels that exist between anatomical lesion and clinical symptom served Morgagni as the basis for his “historiae anatomico-medicae,” the case studies from which he constructed the De sedibus. There had, to be sure, been earlier collections of case histories, in particular Théophile Bonet’s Sepulchretum (1679), but Bonet’s work was, as René Laënnec wrote of it, an “undigested and incoherent compilation,” while the special merit of Morgagni’s work lies in its synthesis of case materials with the insights provided by his own anatomical investigations. In his book Morgagni made careful evaluations of anatomic medical histories drawn exhaustively from the existing literature. In addition, he describes a great number of previously unpublished cases, including both those that he had himself observed in sixty years of anatomical investigation and those collected by his immediate predecessors, especially Valsalva, whose posthumous papers Morgagni meticulously edited and commented upon. The case histories collected in the De sedibus therefore represent the work of an entire school of anatomists, beginning with Malpighi, then extending through his pupils Valsalva and Albertini to Morgagni himself.

Morgagni may thus be considered to be the founder of pathological anatomy. This work was, in turn, developed by Baillie, who classified organic lesions as types (1793); Auenbrugger and Laënnec, who recognized organic lesions in the living subject (1761 and 1819, respectively); Bichat, who found the pathological site to be in the tissue, rather than the organ (1800); and Virchow, who traced the pathology from the tissue to the cell (1858).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

I. Original Works. Morgagni’s writings include Adver-saria anatomica prima (Bologna, 1706); Nova institutionum medicarum idea (Padua, 1712); Adversaria anatomica altera et tertia (Padua, 1717); Adversaria anatomica quarta, quinta et sexta (Padua, 1719); Epistolae anatomicae duae (Leiden, 1728); Epistolae anatomicae duodeviginti ad scripta perti-nentes celeberrimi viri A. M. Valsalvae (Venice, 1740); De sedibus et causis morborum per anatomen indagatis (Venice, 1761); Opuscula miscellanea (Venice, 1763); Opera omnia (Venice, 1764); and Opera postuma (Rome, 1964–1969), vol. I, Le autobiografie, and vols. II-IV, Lezioni di medicina teorica.

A bibliography is Renato Zanelli, “Catalogo ragionato delle edizioni Morgagnane in ordine cronologico,” in Le onoranze a G. B. Morgagni, Forli, 24 maggio 1931–IX (Siena, 1931), 137–147.

II. Secondary Literature. Bibliographies are Carlo Fiorentini, Giovanni Battista Morgagni: Primo saggio di bibliografia sintetica (Bologna, 1930); and Loris Premuda, “Versuch einer Bibliographic mit Anmerkungen über das Leben und die Werke von G. B. Morgagni,” in Markwart Michler, ed. and trans., Sitz und Ursachen der Krankheiten (Bern-Stuttgart, 1967), 163–195.

More recent works include Luigi Belloni, “Aus dem Briefwechsel von G. B. Morgagni mit L. Schrück und J. F. Baier,” in Nova acta leopoldina, 36 (1970), 107–139; “Lettere del 1761 fra D. Cotugno e G. B. Morgagni,” in Physis, 12 (1970), 415–423; “Contributo all’epistolario Boerhaave—Morgagni. L’edizione delle Epistolae anato-micae duae, Leida 1728,” ibid., 13 (1971), 81–109; “L’epis-tolario Morgagni—Réaumur alia Biblioteca Civica di Forli,” in Gesnerus, 29 (1972), 225–254; “L’opera di Giam-battista Morgagni: dalla strutturazione meccanica dell’or-ganismo vivente all’anatomia patologica,” in Simposi clinici, 9 (1972), I-VIII; and in Morgagni, 4 (1971), 71–80; and “G. B. Morgagni und die Bedeutung seines ’De sedibus et causis morborum per anatomen indagatis,’” in Erna Lesky and Adam Wandruzka,eds., Gerard van Swieten und seine Zeit (Vienna-Cologne-Graz, 1973), 128–136. See also Giuseppe Ongaro, “La biblioteca di Giambattista Morgagni,” in Quaderni per la storia dell’Università di Padova, 3 (1970), 113–129.

Luigi Belloni

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Morgagni, Giovanni Battista." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Morgagni, Giovanni Battista." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/morgagni-giovanni-battista

"Morgagni, Giovanni Battista." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . Retrieved June 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/morgagni-giovanni-battista

Giovanni Battista Morgagni

Giovanni Battista Morgagni

The Italian anatomist Giovanni Battista Morgagni (1682-1771) was the founder of pathological anatomy and the first to demonstrate the relation between disease symptoms and pathological changes in organs.

Giovanni Battista Morgagni was born on Feb. 25, 1682, in Forli. At 15 Giambattista, as he often signed his name, entered the University of Bologna to study medicine and received a degree in 1701. For a short time he continued studying and teaching at Bologna but soon entered medical practice in his native Forli.

In 1706 Morgagni published the first volume of Adversaria anatomica, a collection of medical essays communicated to the Academia Inquietorum which established Morgagni in the scientific community. Later contributions were published from 1717 to 1719. In 1711 he was offered the assistant professorship of theoretical medicine at the University of Padua, a school noted for its brilliant achievements in anatomy for 2 centuries. Morgagni accepted the post in 1712 and in 1715 was elevated to the rank of professor of anatomy. He remained at Padua as a popular teacher, anatomist, and clinical consultant until his death on Dec. 6, 1771.

In 1761, at the age of 79, Morgagni published his great work De sedibus et causis morborum per anatomen indagatis libri quinque (On the Seats and Causes of Disease, Anatomically Studied). For centuries physicians had been guided by the conviction that disease was always generalized throughout the whole body. Although pathological changes in organs had been noted before and although 17th-and early-18th-century anatomists recognized that such changes were sometimes related to the symptoms of specific diseases, De sedibus proved conclusively that this relationship was a valid one and demonstrated its full meaning.

Morgagni's work was based on years of careful observation and experiment, including over 600 postmortem examinations, in which he pinpointed pathological changes leading to death and showed the relationship with the symptoms of the illness preceding death. He also recognized the role of the nervous system in making symptoms felt at a point distant from the seat of the disease and the possible influence of such external factors as weather, age, and occupation in causing pathological changes. These achievements, plus his brilliant descriptions of pathological conditions, make Morgagni the founder of pathological anatomy, both as a distinct part of anatomical study and as a critical basis for understanding the cause of illness.

Further Reading

Morgagni's De sedibus is readily available, since an English translation made in 1769 by Benjamin Alexander was reprinted in 1960. There is no adequate biographical study of Morgagni. However, his work is discussed in almost all general histories of medicine, many of which contain some biographical data. Of particular help is the chapter on Morgagni in Henry Sigerist, The Great Doctors: A Biographical History of Medicine (1933). His life and work are discussed against a background of developments in pathology in Esmond R. Long, A History of Pathology (rev. ed. 1965). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Giovanni Battista Morgagni." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Giovanni Battista Morgagni." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/giovanni-battista-morgagni

"Giovanni Battista Morgagni." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved June 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/giovanni-battista-morgagni

Morgagni, Giovanni Battista

Giovanni Battista Morgagni (jōvän´nē bät–tēs´tä mōrgä´nyē), 1682–1771, Italian anatomist, called the founder of pathologic anatomy. He was professor of anatomy at Padua for 56 years. A meticulous observer and recorder, he contributed classical descriptions of anatomical parts (many of which are named for him), collected case histories, and carried out exhaustive postmortem examinations, as a result of which he discovered many relationships between diseases and physiological changes.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Morgagni, Giovanni Battista." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Morgagni, Giovanni Battista." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/morgagni-giovanni-battista

"Morgagni, Giovanni Battista." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved June 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/morgagni-giovanni-battista