Canano, Giovan Battista

views updated

Canano, Giovan Battista

(b Ferrara, Italy, 1515; d. Ferrara, January 1579),


Canano’s father, Ludovico, was a notary; his mother was Lucrezia Brancaleoni. His grandfather, for whom he was named, was lecturer in medicine at Ferrara and physician at the court of Matthias Corvinus, king of Hungary and Bohemia.

In 1534 Canano matriculated at the University of Ferrara. He attended the lectures in humanism of G. B. Giraldi and in practical medicine of Antonio Musa Brasavola and of his relative Antonio Maria Canano. About 1540, while he was still a student, Canano performed private anatomical dissections in his home (3 Turco Square) with Antonio Canano. These were attended by other Ferrarese physicians and the students Bartolomeo Nigrisoli, G. B. Susio, Jacobo Antonio Buoni, Arcangelo Piccolomini (who later taught anatomy in Rome), Ippolito Boschi, and Franciscus Vesalius, brother of Andreas. In his home Canano received several visits from Andreas Vesalius and also from Gabriele Falloppio (lecturer in medical botany at Ferrara in 1548) and John Caius; the latter described Canano’s library as one of the richest private collections he had seen in Italy.

In 1541 or 1543, Canano published his book Musculorum humani corporis picturala dissectio (a bibliographical rarity), which concerns the muscles of the arm and is illustrated with twenty-seven copperplates by the Ferrarese painter Girolamo da Carpi.

On 18 April 1543, Canano, sponsored by Brasavola, graduated in arts and medicine at Ferrara. In 1541, although still a student, he appears in the records of the University of Ferrara as an unsalaried lecturer in logic. He is not listed among the faculty of the university in 1542 and 1543, but he is found again as a lecturer in practical medicine, or more frequently in surgery, from 1544 until 1552; Canano had charge of the public anatomical demonstrations, which were held in a theater at the Convent of St. Dominic and were attended by the duke of Ferrara and his court. His salary was reduced in 1544 because in that spring he went to the imperial encampments in France as physician to Francesco d’Este. There he observed the siege of St.-Dizier and again met Andreas Vesalius, whom he told about his observation of the valves of deep veins. In 1552 Canano relinquished his teaching post at the University of Ferrara and went to Rome as physician to Pope Julius III, from whom he received benefices and canonicates.

In 1555, at the death of the pope, Canano returned to Ferrara and was made chief physician of the Este principality. He died at Ferrara in 1579 and was buried on 29 January in the Convent of St. Dominic, in a tomb that was built during his lifetime and may still be seen.

Canano flourished in a period when the study of natural phenomena aroused great interest in Italy and when, particularly in Ferrara, there was a great effort to oppose the traditional dogmatic method. The work of Leonardo certainly remained unknown to the medical school of Ferrara. Canano extended to anatomy the criticism and experimental control advocated by Leoniceno (1492) in medical botany and improved upon the work of Berengario da Carpi (1521), who introduced iconography and started independent anatomical observation at Bologna. Probably the medical school of Ferrara influenced Vesalius’ conception and completion of his Fabrica.

The Picturata dissectio is a small book of only forty pages, but of outstanding importance for its originality. It is the first part of a treatise on myology, of which the remainder never appeared, probably because at almost the same time Vesalius published the Fabrica (1543), in which the muscles are depicted in detail.

The Picturata dissectio is based exclusively on direct observation of the structures of the human body (“in mortuorum dissectione omnes hominis partes brevi tempore cognoscimus”) and of living animals (“animantium… dissectione”) and not, like the work of Galen, on dissection of the ape (“dissecandarum…scimiae partium”). The text consists of a dedication, an introduction, and the explanations of the plates. Copperplates, used for the first time, allowed presentation of finer details than did the woodcuts of Berengario and Vesalius. The Picturata dissectio contains the first anatomical drawings of the lumbricales (pl. 18) and of the interossei (pl. 21) of the hand, and the first description and drawing of the “m. palmaris brevis” (short palmar muscle) (pl. 19E) and of the oblique head of the adductor pollicis (pl. 20), which Vesalius did not observe and was unknown to Galen (“de quo non meminit Galenus”).

When depicting the muscles, Canano followed the same order as Galen (“Galenum sequentes muscolos”) and often used his words, but was quick to point out Galen’s omissions, errors, or contradictions.

Another important contribution by Canano was the observation of the valves of the deep veins (the azygos, the renal veins, and the sacral veins) and the assertion that they serve to prevent the reflux of the blood, as Vesalius referred to it (“hasque sanguinis refluxui obstare asseruit”). Like Ingrassia when he discovered the stapes, Canano made these observations public only orally, explaining them to such leading anatomists as Falloppio and Vesalius, who give us unequivocal testimony of it. Falloppio, Eustachi, and Vesalius were not able to confirm Canano’s observations, probably because the valves are in frequent in the deep veins; and Amatus Lusitanus interpreted their function erroneously. Thus, little attention was paid to this research of Canano until Girolamo Fabrizio described the valves in the superficial veins of the limbs, attributing the discovery to himself. Nevertheless, in the eighteenth century such authorities as Morgagni and Haller correctly credited Canano with this discovery, which was to open the way for the further investigations that led to greater knowledge of the blood circulation.


Canano’s only published work is Musculorum humani corpor is picturata dissectio (Ferrara, 1541 [or 1543]). According to Cushing and Streeter, only 11 copies are extant. A facsimile ed., with notes by H. Cushing and E. C. Streeter, is part of the series Monumenta Medica, E. H. Sigerist, ed. (Florence, 1925). Another facsimile ed., with Italian and English trans., historical intro., and references from Galen and Vesalius, was edited by Giulio Muratori (Florence, 1962); it also appeared in Archivio italiano di anatomia, 67 (1962), 1–109.

On Canano or his work, see J. Caius. De libris suis (London, 1570); V. Ducceschi, “Giambattista Canano,” in Gli scienziati italiani, I, pt. 2 (1923), 285–292; G. Falloppio, Observationes anatomicae (Venice, 1561); A. von Haller, Elementa physiologiae corporis humani, I (Venice, 1768); J. B. Morgagni, Valsalvae opera. Epistolarum anatomicarum duodeviginti (Venice, 1741), II, epist. xv; G. Muratori, “The Academic and Anatomical Teaching of G. B. Canani and the Anatomical Theatres of the University of Arts and Medicine in Ferrara,” in Acta anatomica (in press); G. Muratori and D. Bighi, “A. Vesalio, G. B. Canano e la rivoluzione rinascimentale dell’anatomia e della medicina,” in Aeta medicae historiae patavina, 10 (1964), 51–95; G. Muratori and A. Franceschini, “Nuovi documenti riguardanti l’attività dell’anatomico ferrarese G. B. Canani,” in Atti e memorie Deputazione provinciale ferrarese di storia patria, III (1966), 89–132; A Vesalius, Anatomicarum G. Falloppii observationum examen (Venice, 1564); and N. Zaffarini, Scoperte anatomiche di G. B. Canani (Ferrara, 1809).

Giulio Muratori