Magati, Cesare

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(b. Scandiano, Modena, Italy, 1579; d. Bologna, Italy, 9 September 1647)


Magati was the son of Giorgio Magati and of the former Claudia Mattacoda; his parents were of modest condition. One of his brothers, Giovanni Battista, was a doctor; his sister Laura was the grandmother of Antonio Vallisnieri. Magati obtained a doctorate in philosophy and medicine at Bologna in 1597. He was a pupil of the military surgeon Flaminio Rota and of Giulio Cesare Claudini, teacher of logic, philosophy, and practical medicine. Magati practiced the treatment of head wounds under Giovanni Battista Cortese, an expert in this field. He later moved to Rome, where he learned the methods of treating wounds used by surgeons there.

When he returned to Scandiano, Magati built up a successful practice and gained the patronage of the Marquis Enzio Bentivoglio, who recognized the earnestness and ability of the young surgeon and took him to Ferrara. There the established physicians received him with hostility, but he overcame their jealousy and in 1613 became a lecturer in surgery. This post became the focal point for the diffusion of his method of treating wounds and at the same time gave Magati useful opportunities to experiment.

In 1616, at the age of thirty-seven, Magati published, in Venice, the book for which he is particularly remembered, the collection of lectures De rara mnedicatione vulnerum, seu de vulneribus raro tractandis, libri duo. A few years later he became seriously ill and decided to join the Capuchin order. The investiture took place on 11 April 1618; he took his final vows a year later at Ravenna as Friar Liberato of Scandiano. But there was little peace for Magati in the monastery, for he was assailed from all sides with requests for his help and his cures. His superiors granted him permission to practice, and he treated well-known patients throughout the territory of the house of Este.

For years Magati suffered from gallstones, and in 1647 he went to Bologna for an operation. The surgeon very neatly extracted three stones the size of an egg, but failed in the more difficult attempt to extract a fourth one covered with sharp projections; the bladder wall tore and Magati died three days later in great pain.

Magati was one of the forerunners of modern surgery. He was among the first to prescribe a rational treatment of wounds, quite different from contemporary methods, which advocated the frequent replacement of dressings and repeated local applications, on the same day, of various ointments.

Magati’s major work, De rara medicatione vulnerum, was published in three editions. The book is divided into two parts, general and specialized. The style is prolix, with frequent mentions of Hippocrates and Galen. But the essence of Magati’s new ideas is clearly expressed, and may be summarized thus; It is nature, not the doctor and his medicine, that heals wounds, because it is nature that eliminates pus, regenerates the flesh, repairs broken bones with callus, coagulates blood, and expels secretions. Therefore the best method of healing wounds is to give nature the means to do her work in the best way, by eliminating or avoiding obstacles. The frequent exposure of wounds to air is damaging, as is the introduction of probes and bandages, which encourage putrefaction. Magati denied the need to clean and anoint wounds; they should merely be bound with a linen cloth folded several times and left in place for five or six days. The bandage must not be heavy or unevenly distributed, and neither too tight nor too loose.

The validity of Magati’s care of wounds was confirmed by Ludovico Settala, a doctor in the hospital at Milan. In the early part of the eighteenth century Dionisio Andrea Sancassani, also from Scandiano, tried to revive Magati’s therapeutic methods and wrote three short works on the subject: Chirone in campo, Lume all’occhio, and Magati redivivo. But the time was not ripe, and minds accustomed to centuries-old methods could not quickly be persuaded to accept such innovations.

Two other works are attributed to magati: Tractatus quo raro vulnerum curatio defenditur contra Sennertum, Which was printed at the end of De rara medicatione, in the second (1676) edition, of which his brother Giovanni Battista appears as the author; and the De Re Medica, which appears to have been printed at the expense of the Este family.


On Magati or his work, see W. von Brunn, Kurze Geschichte der Chirurgie (Berlin, 1928), pp. 219, 225, 265, 276; P. Capparoni, “Cesare Magati (Padre Liberato da Scandiano dei Minori Cappuccini),” in Profili bio-bibliografici di medici e naturalist celebri italiani dal secolo XV al secolo XVIII (Rome, 1932), pp. 70–75; D. Giordano, “Medicazioni strane e medicazioni semplici,” in Scritti e discorsi pertinenti alla storia della medicina e ad argomenti diversi (Milan, 1930), pp. 25–45; W. von Haberling, F. Hüubotter, and H. Vierordt, eds., Lexicon der hervorragenden ÄArzte aller Zeiten und Vöilker 2nd ed., IV (Berlinvienna, 1932), 27–28; V. Putti, “Cesare Magati (1579– 1647),” in Biografie di chirurghi dal XVI a XIX secolo (Bologna, 1941), pp. 9–16; and S. de Renzi, Storia della medicina in Italia, IV (Naples, 1845), 484–495.

Loris Premuda