Bonomo, Giovan Cosimo

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Bonomo, Giovan Cosimo

(b. Leghorn, Italy, 30 November 1666; d. Florence, Italy, 13 January 1696)


Bonomo received the doctorate in philosophy and medicine at the University of Pisa on 22 June 1682. The following year, on 18 December, he passed the qualifying examination to practice his profession in Tuscany. He often served as physician in the galleys of grand Duke Cosmo III, which had Leghorn as their home port.

Bonomo belonged to the biological school that originated with Galileo. Inspired by the research that had enabled his teacher Francesco Redi to disprove the theory of the spontaneous generation of insects in 1668, and availing himself of Giacinto Cestoni’s skill with the microscope, Bonomo, in his Osservazioni intornoa’ pellicelli del corpo umano (1687), affirmed that scabies is caused by mites. As a matter of fact, the mites of patients suffering from scabies had been known for some time, but they were considered a consequence and not a cause of the disease.

with the aid of the microscope, it was demonstrated that this arachnid reproduces by means of eggs and that it possesses an oral apparatus with which it penetrates the skin. Hence, Bonomo resolved to adopt local therapy aimed at killing the mites, instead of the general therapy that had previously been used. The results thus obtained enabled him to conclude that the mites were the cause of the disease. It followed that scabies is transmitted by the mites from a victim to a healthy person. Therefore, it is a “live” infection, of which Bonomo’s work constituted the first clinical and experimental proof.

In April 1691, the grand duke appointed Bonomo physician to his daughter Anna Maria Luisa, who had married the elector of the Rhenish Palatinate, Johann Wilhelm. In this capacity he accompanied her to Düsseldorf and remained there until the end of 1694 or the beginning of 1695, when he was obliged, for reasons of health, to return to Florence.


Bonomo’s major work is Osservazioni intorno a’ pellicelli del corpo umano (Florence, 1687).

Works on Bonomo are Luigi Belzoni,“Le’contagium vivum’ avant Pasteur,” in Les conférence du Palais de la Découverte (Paris, 1961), pp.10–11; “La medicazione topica nella scoperta della etiologia acarica della scabbia,” in Simposi clinici, 1 (1964), XXi-XXVi; “I secoli italiani della dottrina del contagion vivo,” ibid., 4 (1967), liii; Ugo Faucci, “Contribute alla storia della scabbia,” in Rivista di storia delle scienze medicine e naturali, 22 (1931), 153–170, 198–215, 257–371, 441–475; and C. Lombardo, “Giovan Cosimo Bonomo a Pisa,” ibid., 29 (1938), 97–121.

Luigi Belloni