Laurens, André Du (Laurentius)

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Laurens, André Du (Laurentius)

(b. Tarascon, near Arles, France, 9 December 1558; d Paris, France, 16 August 1609),

anatomy, medicine.

Laurens’s father was a physician in Arles; his maternal uncle, Honoré Castellan, was an important royal physician. Although their father died when they were young, Laurens and his six brothers all enjoyed successful careers, two becoming archbishops and two becoming royal physicians.

After taking the M.D. at Avignon in 1578, Laurens went to Paris to study under Louis Duret. In 1583 he took another doctorate at Montpellier in order to qualify for the chair of medicine left vacant there in 1582 by the death of Laurent Joubert. After lecturing at Montpellier for about ten years, he left (apparently without relinquishing his chair) to serve as personal physician to the duchess of Uzès; she introduced him at the French court, where he was soon named one of the physicians of Henry IV. In 1596 he became a royal physician in ordinary and in 1600 was designated first physician to Henry’s new queen, Marie de Médicis. In 1603 he became chancellor of the University of Montpellier, although he continued to reside at court and delegated his duties to a vice-chancellor. In 1606 he became first physician to the king; he died three years later. In 1601 he had married Anne Sanguin, by whom he had one son.

Laurens’s first publication (1593) was a pamphlet in which he attacked the views of Simon Piètre, a prominent Parisian physician, on the foramen ovale of the fetal heart. According to Galen, this orifice permitted blood to pass from the vena cava, through the right and left auricles, and into the pulmonary vein, where it nourished the lungs. Piètre maintained (1593) that the actual function of the foramen was to bring blood from the vena cava into the left ventricle for distribution to the body through the arteries. In his pamphlet Laurens defended Galen’s view. Piètre’s response led to a further attack by Laurens, and a final defense by Piètre, whose view found little favor until its vindication by William Harvey in De motu cordis (1628).

The same Galenic orthodoxy is evident throughout Laurens’s Opera anatomica (1593). Much of this work was incorporated into the more comprehensive, illustrated Historia anatomica (1600), which was one of the most widely used anatomical textbooks of the first half of the seventeenth century. The twelve books of the Historia include not only descriptions of the structures, actions, and uses of the parts, but also 178 “controversies” in which are discussed disputed questions generally of a theoretical nature, such as whether there is a natural spirit and whether the brain is the seat of a principal faculty. In his preface Laurens vowed to vindicate Galen from the innumerable calumnies of the moderns as far as truth would permit, and in fact he did support the Galenic position in most of the controversies, upholding, for example, the permeability of the cardiac septum against the pulmonary circuit and other alternatives and rejecting Falloppio’s views on the action of the gall bladder.

Laurens’s book contains little original material. His anatomical descriptions generally did not improve on those of his predecessors and at times fell short of them. His illustrations were, with few exceptions, borrowed from other works, especially those of Vesalius, as well as Coiter and Varolio; and even many of his controversies were based on earlier works written in the tradition of Peter of Abano’s Conciliator. Nevertheless, as a textbook the Historia anatomica was quite successful. Its anatomical descriptions were concise and lucid, while the controversies provided a comprehensive survey of the various positions in disputed points of anatomy and physiology. Even the orthodoxy of Laurens’s views often proved useful to those requiring a foil against which to develop alternative positions. The importance of the book is reflected in its numerous editions, both in Latin and in French, and in the frequency with which it was cited by contemporaries. Many of the controversies were translated into English in Helkiah Crooke’s Mikrokos-mographia (1615), and Theodore Colladon included a detailed critique of the Historia in his Adversaria (1615).

Laurens also published numerous other medical works, of which the most popular was Discours de la conservation de la vue; des maladies mélancholiques; des catarrhes; et de la vieillesse (1594). Intended for a lay audience, the work went through more than twenty editions, and was translated into English, German, Latin, and Italian.


I. Original Works. The bibliography in Edouard Turner, “Bibliographie d’André Du Laurens … avec quelques remarques sur sa biographie,” in Gazette hebdomadaire de mádecine et de chirurgie, 2nd ser., 17 (1880), 329-341, 381-390, 413-435; and Études historiques (Paris, 1876-1885), pp. 209-243, is fairly comprehensive. He accepts Historia anatomica humani corporis et singularumn ejus partium, multis controversiis et observationibus novis illustrata (Paris, 1600) as the 1st ed., instead of the undated Frankfurt edition, which he dates 1627 rather than 1599 and considers to be a reissue of the Frankfurt edition dated 1600. Turner’s list includes the pamphlets exchanged by Piètre and Laurens in 1593. Laurens gives an account of the dispute, including a long extract from Piètre’s first tract, in Historia anatomica,VIII, controversy 25. A Discourse of the Preservation of Sight; of Melancholicke Diseases; of Rheumes, and of Old Age, Richard Surphlett, trans. (London, 1599), was published in facs., with intro. by Sandford V. Larkey (London, 1938).

II. Secondary Literature. For biographical information, see Turner, cited above. For a critique of Historia anatomica, see M. Portal, Histoire de l’anatomie et de la chirurgie, II (Paris, 1770), 147-159.

Jerome J. Bylebyl

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Laurens, André Du (Laurentius)

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