Zambeccari, Giuseppe

views updated


(b. Castelfranco di Sotto, Italy, 19 March 1655; d. Pisa, Italy, 13 December 1728)


At age eighteen Zambeccari was admitted to the Ducal College of Pisa (which later became the university), where he studied medicine. The college already had won renown as the producer of the previous centuries’ most brilliant scientists, and among his professor was the anatomist Lorenzo Bellini.

After graduiating in 1679, Zambeccari moved to Florence where he continued his studies under Francesco Redi, who encouraged him to improver his inclinical knowledge by working as an intern in the wards of the Hospital of Santa Maria Novella . According to the custom of the time, Zambeccari lodged in the house of his professor and there in 1680 conducted his most important experiments in physiology, which consisted in removing various internal organs from live animals (mainly dogs) in order to acquire a better understanding of what functions they performed in relation to the whole organism.

One of the first series of experiments dealt with the removal of the spleen; several of the animals operated upon survived, and a few months later they were killed and carefully examined in order to discover what anatomical, pathological, and physiological changes had been caused by the removal of the organ. Obviously,‘ no conclusive results-could be obtained from these experiments, because nothing was then known of the function of the spleen and there were no means of carrying the investigation further.

Turning to the study of other organs, Zambec-cari performed unilateral nephrectomies and discovered that the animal apparently was not incommoded by the operation. In other experiments he tied the common bile duct and thus demonstrated that bile is not formed in the gall bladder, as was then the common belief. Encouraged by the results of his experiments, he not only removed the bile duct but also fragments of hepatic tissue, and even entire lobes of the liver, always finding that a good percentage of the animals survived the operation. Zambeccari performed a resection of the cecum and finally went so far as to remove the pancreas and to ligate the mesenteric veins. He also studied the eyes and noted that pricking the cornea of various animals rapidly leads to the reconstitution of the aqueous humor.

Despite their importance in the history of experimental physiology, Zambeccari’s studies had no immediate impact on biology-in part because too little was known for them to be really useful. Nevertheless, the book in which he described his experiments was for a time rather successful and went through several editions; yet it does not appear to have inspired others to use the same approach. Later the work was forgotten completely, until Murri in the nineteenth century brought it to the attention of scientists.

After his period of experimentation in the house of Francesco Redi, Zambeccari returned to Pisa, where he was offered the chair of practical medicine and, in 1689, that of medicine proper. In 1704 he succeeded Bellini in the chair of anatomy.

Other works-manuscripts and letters by Zambeccari, some of which are of considerable interest-either are still unpublished or were discovered only long after his death. Among the most interesting is Del sonno della vigilia e dell’uso dell’oppio, written in 1685, but published, by C. Fedeli, only in 1914. An essay of deductive rather than experimental character, it deals with the physiology of nerve transmission and of muscle contraction, and is based on Galenic assumptions on anatomy and physiology, and on the iatromechanical concepts of Borelli and Galileo.


I. Original Works. Zambeccari’s writings include Esperienze del Doctor Giuseppe Zambeccari intorno a diverse viscere tagliate a diversi animal, viventi…(Florence, 1680); Del sonno, delta vigilia, e dell’uso dell’oppio (Pisa, 1914); and Breve trattato de’bagni di Pisa e di Lucca (Padua, 1712).

II. Secondary Literature. See U. Calamida, “Diun carteggio inedito di Giuseppe Zambeccari,” in Atti del Ill Congresso della Societci italiana di storia delle scienze mediche e naturali (Venice, 1925), 120-127; C. Fedeli, Giuseppe Zambeccari, lettera sulle separazioni (Pisa, 1927), reviewed by A. Corsini in Rivista di storia critica delle scienze mediche e naturali, 18 (1927), 320; P. Ferrari, Giuseppe Zambeccari (Pontremoli, 1925), reviewed by A. Corsini, ibid., 17 (1926), 112-113 ;and S. Jarcho, “A Seventeenth-Century Pioneer in Experimental Physiology and Surgery” in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 9 (1941), 144-176 ;and “Experiments of Doctor Joseph Zambeccari Concerning the Excision of Various Organs From Different Living Animals” ibid., 311-331.

Carlo Castellani