Ingrassia, Giovanni Filippo

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Ingrassia, Giovanni Filippo

(b. Regalbuto, Sicily, ca. 1510; d. Palermo, Silcily, 6 November 1580)


Nothing appears to be known with certainty about Ingrassia’s family, and of his early education we know only that he first studied medicine in Palermo with Giovanni Battista di Pietra. Attracted by the fame of the medical faculty of the University of Padua, he went there to continue his studies and received the M.D. degree in 1537. Thereafter his activities are obscure until 1544, when he was invited to teach anatomy and the practice of medicine at the University of Naples. In 1556, on the recommendation of the Spanish viceroy of Sicily and by decree of Philip II of Spain, he was called to Palermo as protomedicus.

Little is known likewise of Ingrassis’s medical practice in Palermo except for his celebrated case involving Giovanni d’Arragona, marquis of Terranova, who had received a penetrating wound of the left chest in a tournament. When the marquis failed to respond to his treatment, Ingrassia circularized the leading physicians of Europe for suggestions and ultimately elicited, in 1562, Vesalius’ remarkable description of his surgical procedure for treatment of empyema. Ingrassia acknowledged the advice in the following year but declared that he found it unnecessary to employ it since the marquis had finally recovered. Nevertheless he published Veselius’ description of his procedure in Quasestio de purgatione per medicamentum (1568, pp. 92-98), as he declared, for the sake of posterity.

As protomedicus, Ingrassia was concerned for the most part with problems of hygience, epidemiology, and the general administration of Sicilian medicine. His activities included efforts to suppress quackery, to control the pharmaceutical trade, and to improve the conditions in hospitals. He was able with some success to control the endemic malaria of Palermo through drainage of marshes, and his greater use of isolation hospitals (lazzaretti) was instrumental in decreasing the severity of the plague of 1575. It was Ingrassia’s belief that there ought to be three kinds of hospitals: for those suspected to be infected, for the infected, and for the convalescent. The whole subject of plague and infection was discussed, with other matters of public health, in his Informazione del pestifero morbo (1576). Ingrassia was responsible for the establishment of one of the first sanitary codes and a council of public health. He was also a founder of the study of legal medicine, for which he composed his Methodus dandi relationes in 1578; owing to his death two years later, the book was not published until 1914.

Ingrassia is best known for his anatomical studies, admittedly based upon the methods and procedures of Vesalius, for whom he expressed the greatest admiration. These studies were for the most part the result of his period of teaching anatomy at Naples, but were only published posthumously under the title of In Galenum librum de ossibum de doctissima commentaria (Palermo, 1603; Venice, 1964). This is a Latin version of Galen’s work on osteology accompanied by Ingrassia’s commentary, and demonstrated both Galen’s dependence upon the study of nonhuman material and Ingrassia’s own discoveries from his investigation of human osteology. Because of the long delay in publication of the book, whatever claims he may have had to certain discoveries were preempted by other scientist whose findings were printed during the second half of the siuxteenth century. Ingrassia must nevertheless be recognized as having investigated and described the sutures of the skull in minute detail; as having provided a precise description of the sphenoid bone and its sinuses, as well as of the ethmoid; and as having displayed an excellent knowledge of the bony structure of the auditory apparatus. According to Falloppio in Ohervationes anatomicae (1561), Ingrassia in 1546described orally to his students in Naples the third auditory ossicle or stapes, actually calling it stapha because of its resemblance in shape to the stirrup commonly used in Sicily; since his account of the ossicle did not appear in print until 1603, priority of published description must be awarded to the Spanish anatomists pedro Jimeno (1549) and Luis Collado (1555).

Building upon the work of Vesalius, Ingrassia also provided an excellent description of the atlas and the atlanto-occipital articulation, and drew attention to the distinguishing differences between the male and female public bones. In addition to his work on osteology, he also made note of the existence of some of the blood vessels in the cerebral substance and in the walls of the ventricles that had not been described in the Fabrica of Veaslius.

Upon his death Ingrassia was entombed in the chapel of Santa Barbara in Palermo.


The earliest study of Ingrassia of any value appears to have been that of A. Spedalieri, Elogio storico di Giovanni Filippo Ingrassia (Milan, 1817). Recognition of the fourhundredth anniversary (1910) of Ingrassia’s birth led to two publication by G. G. Perrando: Festiggiamenti commemorativi,” in Rivista di critica delle scienze mediche e naturali, 1 (1910-1912), and “La storia e le vicends di un prezioso codice ms. di Gianfilippo Ingrassia,” ibid., 29-41. Other articles include G. Petce, “Pel IV centenario della nascita di G. F. Ingrassia.” in Atti della R. Accademia dele scienze mediche (1913-1915), pp. 150167; and G. Bilancioni,”L’opers medico-legale di Ingrassia,” in Cesalpino, 11 (1915), 249-271.

A fairly sound but brief account of Ingrassia is to be found in P. Capparoni, “Giovan Filippo Ingrassia,” in profili bio-bibliografici di medici e naturalisti celebri italiani dal sec. XV al sec. XVIII, I (Rome, 1926), 42-44, which also contains an extensive short-title bibliography of Ingrassia’s writings; and A. Piraino,”G. F. Ingrassia, I’Incrate siciliano del’500e la sua opera,’ in Cultura medica moderna, 15 (1936), 270-278.

There is reference to the case of the marquis of Terranova in Harvey Cushing, Bio-bibliography of Andreas Vesalius, 2nd ed. (Hamden, Conn., 1962); and in C. D. O’Malley, Andreas Vesalius of Brussels 1515-1564 (Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1964), in which the correspondence between Ingrassia and Vesalius is given in English trans.

C. D. O’Malley