Vigo, Giovanni Da

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(b. Rapallo, Italy, 1450; d. 1525), medicine.

Vigo studied under Battista di Rapallo, surgeon to the marquis of Saluzzo. He is said to have served as surgeon at the siege of Saluzzo (1485-1486), but he makes no reference to it. Vigo practiced at Genoa, where he was befriended by Bendinelli de Saulis, later cardinal of Santa Sabina. About 1495 he went to Savona and found favor with Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, then captain of papal armies in Umbria. When Giuliano became Pope Julius II in 1503, Vigo was summoned to the papal court as surgeon, at an annual salary of ninety-six ducats. In 1506 he served Julius II in the war against the Borgias, and at Bologna cured the pope of a hard node between two fingers. Later, in the campaign against Ferrara, he cured Julius of an ear infection. Among his patients were the duke of Urbino and many cardinals. After Julius’ death (21 February 1513), Vigo became surgeon to his nephew, Sisto della Rovere, who, like his uncle, suffered from gout; his salary was then three hundred gold scudi a year.

After Sisto’s death in 1517, Vigo retired from public life. He had at least two sons: Ambrogio, provost of Santa Maria Maddelena in Genoa and protonotary apostolic, and Luigi, a surgeon for whom he wrote Practica in arte chirurgica copiosa (Rome, 1514). The book, begun in 1503 and completed in 1513, treats anatomy, abscesses, wounds, ulcers, syphilis, fractures, simple medicines, and antidotes; there is also a supplement on spells, aphrodisiacs, cosmetics, cures for obesity and thinness, and a method for extracting a dead fetus. Various parts were written for different people: a consilium on cancer of the breast for a noblewoman, on the stone for Tommaso Regis, on syphilis for Giovanni Antracino, on gout for Cardinal Sisto della Rovere, and on antidotes for Vigo’s son Luigi. Consequently the work is not well organized: diseases of the ears appear in the chapter on breasts, diseases of the teeth in the eyes in the treatise on ulcers.

Vigo’s wide reading led him to copy much from others. Often overruled by physicians at the papal court, he became a timid surgeon: he left the operation for hernia and extraction of stones and cataracts to itinerant surgeons and, except for trephination and amputation, performed few operations. He relied mainly on cauterization, plasters, and ointments. For gunshot wounds, to which he attributed bruising, burning, and poisoning, his basic treatment was the application of “Egyptian” ointment, cauterization with boiling oil, and oil of roses with egg yolk.

Vigo was among the first to advocate the use of mercury ointment in treating syphilis, although Leoniceno and Cumano dismissed it as inefficacious and Juan Almenar considered it to be the cause of epilepsy and paralysis. Vigo distinguished between the primary and secondary stages of the disease, anticipating the views of Antonio Musa Brassavola of Ferrara.

In 1517, possibly stimulated by the Compendium in chirurgia (1514) of his pupil Mariano Santo da Barletta, Vigo published the five-book Practica in arte chirurgica compendiosa, in which he amplified and made more precise his teaching on certain topics, particularly on trephination. He was the first during the Middle Ages to describe the crown saw for removing a bone disk from the skull, an instrument known to Hippocrates but long fallen into oblivion. The instrument was illustrated by Andrea della Croce in Chirurgiae universalis opus absolutum (Venice,1573).

Assessments of Vigo’s contribution to surgery vary: the Italians consider him an innovator who anticipated many later developments; the Germans and the French are inclined to dismiss him as a mere compiler and propagandist of Arab doctrines.


I. Original Works. Vigo’s two published works were Practica in arte chirurgica copiosa (Rome, 1514; Pavia, 1514), repr. at Lyons in 11 eds. between 1516 and 1582; and Practica in arte chirurgica compendiosa (Rome[?], 1517; Pavia, 1518; Venice, 1520; Florence, 1522, 1525); also translated into French by Nicholas Godin (1525), into Italian by Lorenzo Chrysaorio (1540), into English by Bartholomew Traheron (1543), into Spanish by Miguel Juan Pascual (1557), and into German and Portuguese in the seventeenth century. There were many eds. of each trans. at late as the eighteenth century.

II. Ssecondry Literature See the following, listed chronologically: G. L. Marini, Degli archiatri pontificü, I (Rome, 1784), 300–303; V. Malacarne. Delle opere de’ medici, e de’ cerusici che nacquero o fiorivono prima del secolo XVI negli stati della real casa di Savoia, I (Turin. 1786), 187; G. G. Bonino, Biografia medica Piemontese, I (Turin, 1824), 108–121; B. Mojon, Ritratti ed elogi di Liguri illustri (Genoa, 1820); J.-F. Malgaigne, Oeuvres complètes d’ Ambroise Paré, I (Paris, 1840), clxxv-clxxxii; G. B. Pescetto, Biografia medica Ligure, I (Genoa, 1846), 69–87; E. Gurlt, Geschichte der Chirurgie, I (Berlin, 1898), 919–942; V. Nicaise, “A propos de Jean de Vigo,” in Bulletin de la Société française d’ histoire de la médecine, 2 (1903), 313–347; G. Davide, “Giovanni da Vigo (1450-1525),” in Rivista di storia delle scienze mediche e naturali, 17 (1926), 21–35; H. Frölich, Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Aerzte, V (Berlin, 1934), 758; and E. Razzoli, Giovanni da Vigo, archiatro di Giulio II (Milan, 1939).

C. H. Talbot