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Gayant, Louis

Gayant, Louis

b. Beauvais, France; d. Maastricht, Netherlands, 19 October 1673)

comparative anatomy.

Gayant was trained in medicine and was serving as a military physician at the time of his death. He was recognized as one of the most able anatomists of his time and was closely associated with the anatomists in the Académie Royale des Sciences. By 1667 he was collaborating with Jean Pecquet, Claude Perrault, and others in the anatomical work published later in the Mémoires. This work was part of the scheme of research that Perrault proposed to the Academy soon after its founding. The exact portion of the work done by each man in the group of anatomists in the Academy cannot generally be determined because of the policy of dissecting and writing up the results anonymously.

Gayant’s name seems to be associated firmly with only three pieces of anatomical work—all dating from 1667—although scattered references indicate that he participated regularly in the collective work of the Parisian anatomists. In February 1667 he dissected a female cadaver to demonstrate a number of venous valves which were already known but not universally accepted. In his demonstration the pertinent parts of the venous system were both inflated with air and injected with milk. The following month he conducted similar demonstrations, again at the Academy, in collaboration with Perrault and Pecquet.

During 1667 the transfusion of blood as a potential remedy was much discussed both in London and in Paris. That year at least seven transfusion experiments on dogs were performed by the Parsian anatomists. One of these was related to the Royal Society of London by a correspondent who witnessed Gayant perform it. The writer claims that the vigor of the recipient dog immediately improved. The Parisians reported, however, that all seven recipients died or were enfeebled and that coagulated blood was ordinarily found in their heart or veins. The donors all carried on well. On the basis of these results the Parlement of Paris prohibited blood transfusions “as a useless and dangerous remedy.”

The dissection subjects of the Parisian anatomists, including Gayant, covered a wide range of vertebrates, primarily mammals. These included a few domestic animals for comparative purposes, many wild European forms, and as many foreign species as they could obtain, the latter often from the royal menagerie at Versailles. Specifically on which parts of this extensive project Gayant worked cannot be determined. There is no doubt, however, that until his death he was an important member of the group working in comparative anatomy in the Academy and that he contributed substantially to their series of publications.


I. Original Works. The three demonstrations with which Gayant was associated in 1667 are described in Histoire de l’Académie royale des sciences, 1 (Paris, 1733), 36–39. The letter to the Royal Society is in Philosophical Transactions, 26 (3 June 1667), 479–480. The collected works published by the Parisian anatomists, to which Gayant certainly contributed, are Extrait d’une letter . . . sur un grand poisson . . . (Paris, 1667); Description anatornique d’un cameleon . . . (Paris, 1669); and Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire naturelle des animaux (Paris, 1671–1676).

II. Secondary Literature. See “Louis Gayant,” in Biographie médicale. IV (Paris. 1820–1825), 366.

For a discussion of the Parisian anatomists as a group see F. J. Cole, A History of Comparative Anatomy (London, 1944), pp. 393–442; and Joseph Schiller, “Les laboratoires d’anatomie et de botanique à l’Académie des sciences au XVIIe siècle,” in Revue d’histoire des sciences et de leurs applications, 17 (1964), 97–114.

Wesley C. Williams

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