Botallo, Leonardo

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Botallo, Leonardo

(b. Asti, Italy, ca. 1519; d. Chenonceaux or Blois, 1587/1588)


Botallo studied and obtained a degree in medicine at the University of Pavia, after which he continued his studies for a time at the University of Padua under Gabriele Falloppio. He then practiced medicine in Asti. He joined the French forces in Italy, at least by 1544, since he refers to his participation in the battle of Ceresole as a military surgeon. He was already located in Paris as one of the physicians of Charles IX in 1560. The same year in which his surgical treatise De curandis vulneribus sclopettorum was published in Lyons. Based partly on earlier, similar treatises and partly on Botallo’s own experiences as a military surgeon, the work is notable chiefly for its support of the opinion, first advocated in print by Ambroise Paré in 1545, that gunshot wounds were not envenomed and ought to receive mild rather than harsh treatment. It was also concerned with the neurological effects of cranial injuries and the indications for treatment. The work was frequently and widely reprinted.

Botallo’s name appears in the eponymous nomenclature of anatomy through the terms Botallo’s duct (ductus arteriosus) and Botalio’s foramen (foramen ovale cordis), actually incorrect attributions of discovery based upon Botalio’s brief note “Vena arteriarum nutrix a nullo antea notata” in his De catarrho commentarius. Assertions that this note appeared in an earlier form entitled De foramine ovalis dissertatio appear to be incorrect. Through accidental discovery of the above structures in the calf’s heart and thereafter in various other animals, and in particular through his chance observation of persistence of the foramen ovale, Botallo was led to believe that the blood’s passage from the right to the left side of the heart was by way of this opening rather than through the imaginary pores of the cardiac septum, as (incorrectly) proposed by Galen, or through the lungs, as (correctly) proposed by Realdo Colombo. Actually, Botalio’s “discovery” had been mentioned in the second century by Galen and, more recently, the ductus arteriosus by Falloppio, in 1561 and the ductusarterious and foramen ovale by Vesalius, also in 1561. Botallo may therefore be credited merely with independent rediscovery; but, since he did not dissect the fetus, he failed to recognize the true significance of the structures, although it appears to have been known to Galen and was later reemphasized by William Harvey.

A second note in De catarrho commentarius, entitled “Addita est in fine monstrorum renum figura, nuper in cadavere repertorum,” provides a careful description, accompanied by a detailed illustration, of an instance of fused kidneys with horseshoe configuration. This anomaly, too, had previously been observed and described, although more briefly, by Berengario da Carpi in the Isagogae (1522, f. 17v). Nonetheless, Botallo’s detailed account indicates his interest in anatomy and his not inconsiderable ability as a dissector and observer.

Botallo’s other writings are of lesser significance. The Luis venereae curandae ratione was characteristic of its time; but De incidendae venae, cutis scarificandae et hirudinum applicandarum modo, through presentation of Botallo’s independent, anti-Galenic opinions regarding venesection, gained him the enmity of the conservative Parisian physicians. Botallo believed in the therapeutic value of liberal bloodletting. The Commentariola duo, alter de medici, alter de aegroti munere, dealing with medical ethics and the physician-patient relationship in general, reveals Botallo as skeptical of the value of astrology to medicine.

Throughout his years in the French royal medical service, Botallo enjoyed the favor and confidence of the queen mother, Catherine de’ Medici, in part perhaps because of their common Italian origin. In any event, she was instrumental in having his services transferred to her favorite son, the duke of Anjou, later Henry III. It was during this latter service, and no doubt as a reflection of his fame as a military surgeon, that Botallo was temporarily disengaged in 1575 to undertake the care and treatment of Henry I of Lorraine, duke of Guise, who had received a gunshot wound of the cheek and ear. Botallo was, at least professionally, inactive during the final years of his life as a result of sickness, most likely the effects of malaria. He died probably at Chenonceaux or Blois, but there is no available information as to where he was buried.


I. Original Works. Botallo’s works include De curandis vulneribus sclopettorum (Lyons, 1560, 1564, 1566, 1575, 1583), translated into German as Von den Schuss-Wunden, und wie dieselben zu heilen (Nuremberg, 1676); De foramine ovalis dissertatio (Lyons, 1561); Luis venerae curandaeratione (Paris, 1563); De catarrho commentarius (Paris, 1564); Commentariola duo, alter de medici, alter de aegroti munere (Lyons, 1565); and De incidendae venae, cuts scarificande et hirudinum applicandarum modo (Lyons, 1565).

II. Secondary Literture. In addition to the few autobiographical remarks in Botallo’s writings, there is a biographical study by Leonardo Carerj, Leonardo Botallo Astese, medico regio (Asti, 1954). Also see John A. Benjamin and Dorothy M. Schullian, “Observation on Fused Kidneys With Horseshoe Configuration: The Contribution of Leonardo Botallo (1564),” In Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 5 (1950), 315–326; Leonardo Carerj. “Leonardo Botallo, il fore ovale e il dotto arterios,” in Minerva medica, 2 (1955), varia, 789–795; K. J. Franklin, “A Survey of the Growth of Knowledge About Certain Parts of the Foetal Cardio-vascular Apparatus, and About the Foetal Circulation, in Man ande in some Other Mammals. Part I: Galen to Harvey,” in Annals of Science, 5 (1941), 57–89; E. J. Gurlt, Geschichte der Chirurgie und ihrer Ausübung, II (Berlin, 1898), 403–415; Antonio Nitto, “Considerazioni medico-storiche sulla fossa ovale, il legamento arterioso e la priorità della loro scoperta tra Leonardo Botallo e Giulio Cesare Aranzio,” in Policlinico, sez. med., 68 (1961), 299–312; and Mario Truffi, “Leonardo Botallo sifilografo,” in Minerva medica, 46 (1955), varia, 34–42.

C. D. O’Malley