Piccolomini, Arcangelo

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(b Ferrara, Italy, 1525; d Rome, Italy, 19 October 1586)

medicine anatomy, pnysiology

Little is known of Piccolomini’s early life. He received his doctorate in philosophy and medicine at Ferrara, probably in the late 1540’s, and then taught philosoghy at the University of Bordeaux. In 1556 he published at Paris a commentary on Galen’s De humoribus; Piccolomini dedicated the work to Bishop Michcle della Tore, the papal nuncio in France, Under the latter’s patronage Piccolomini went to Rome, where he was eventually named physician to Pope Pius IV (1559–1565). He retained this office until his death, serving in turn Pius V, Gregory XIII. and Sixtus V. U. In 1575 he was given the chair in medical practice at the Sapienza, where he also lectured on anatomy. In 1582 he became general protomedicus for the Papal States

In 1586 Piccolomini published his course of anatomical lectures. Anatomieae pracleetiones, to forestall an unauthorized edition based on the notes of students. The course itself was supplemented by a series of anatomical demonstrations by the prosector Leonardo Biondini. This collaboration may explain why Piccolomini did not stress thorough morphological description in his own lectures, except in individual instances where he regarded the descriptions of earlier anatomists as faulty. Among his more noteworthy descriptions were those of the abdominal muscles, the termination of the abdominal muscles, the termination of the acoustic nerve, the anastomoses of the fetal heart, and the differences between the male and female pelvis. He was the First anatomist after Salomon Alberti (1585) to describe the venous valves as a general phenomenon, although, like Alberti, Piccolomini probably learned of the valves from Fabrici. who had publicly anounced the discovery at Padua in 1578 or 1579. Piccolomini also related a number of interesting pathological observations

On the whole, though, the element of descriptive anatomy in the Praetecthnes is quite subordinate to the discussion of highly abstract questions of psychology and physiology. In its theoretical orientation the work resembles the “Physiologia” (1542) of Jean Femel, who was the one contemporary to receive Piccolomini’s unqualified praise. Piccolomini followed Fernel in maintaining a strongly Neoplatonist view of the soul and in stressing the importance of “supraelementary” powers as causes of vital phenomena. He thought, for example, that the formative powers of animal semen were due to three supraelementary powers derived from the parents, namely celestial heat, celestial spirit, and the vegetative soul—“instructed and taught by the most wise God.” But these powers could only begin the process of generation, the completion of which required the direct infusion of a substantial form the heavenly bodies for each new creature.

While Piccolomini derived much of his physiology from Aristotle and Galen, his system had many characteristic features of its own. Most notably, where Aristotle regerded the heart as the one ruling organ of the body and Galen emphasized the independence of the brain and heart in controlling dilferent aspects of bodily function, Piccolomini upheld the supreme hegemony of the brain, on which even the heart depends for its vivifying and pulsatile faculties. Piccolomini also rejected other Aristotelian and Galenic doctrines in favor of supposedly Hippocratic views: that the semen of both parents is drawn from all parts of their bodies, that the heart is a muscle, and that the peculiar “celestial heat” of animals is not inate but is inhaled together with the air. On numerous other points of detail Piccolomini introduced his own functional doctrines, most of them dervived speculatively; and his oppsition to serveral of Colombo’s physiological theiories included a lengethy refution of the pulmonary circulation Anatamicae praeiattones was not reprinted after 1586, but it left a number of discernible marks on the detalied texture of physiological thought during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centruies


I. original works. Piccolomini’s works include In librum Galeni de hunoribus comnrentarii, with Greek and Latin texts (Paris, 1556; Venice, 1556); and Anatonticae praelcctiones.... explicantes ntirtficani corporis huniatii fabricam: et quae anunae vires, quibus corporis partibus, tanquam mstnunciuis, ad suas obetulas actiones, uranrur; sictiti tola anuria, corpore (Rome, 1586).

II. secondary literature. On Piccolomini and his work, see Francesco Pierro, Arcangeto Piccolomini Ferrarese (1525–1586) et la sua importanza nellanatomia postvesuliana, which is Quaderni di sioria delta scienlae della medicina, no. 6 (Ferrara, 1965).

Jerome J. Bylebyl

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