Guido Horn d'Arturo scientists in Bologna index Manfredi Eustachio

Marcello Malpighi
(Ariane Dröscher)

Fig. 1: Portrait of Malpighi on the wall of the Rector's Study, Bologna University.
(Credit: Quadreria dell’Università)


Marcello Malpighi was born in Crevalcore just outside Bologna on 10th March 1628.

In January 1646 he enrolled at the Studium of Bologna but the young Malpighi does not seem to have shown any particular vocation for studying.
His carefree life came to an abrupt end in 1649 when both his parents and his paternal grandfather died.

As the eldest son, Malpighi had to take care of his eight brothers and sisters so he decided to become a doctor. He was keen on anatomy and attended the "Anatomic Coro", an academy founded by Bartolomeo Massari which devoted itself to the dissection of animals and, when available, human corpses.

During that period, however, the Studium of Bologna had entered a grey era and, despite an anatomic tradition going back to Mondino de' Liuzzi, Andrea Vesalio and Giulio Cesare Aranzio, the ancient authority of Galen was still a firm cornerstone of Bologna's medical school.
The activities of the Coro provoked animosity amongst almost the entire academic body. Paolo Mini and Ovidio Montalbano were particularly relentless adversaries. Mini proclaimed that a study of the ancient writings of Galen made any form of dissection pointless, while Montalbano used his authority to introduce into the doctorate exam a severe test of faith in Galenic medicine.
Malpighi felt persecuted, probably because one of his opponents, Tommaso Sbaraglia, was linked to the Malpighi family by a deep, longstanding hate originating from a dispute over a piece of land bordering the two families' property.

Therefore, in 1656, two years after graduating in medicine and philosophy and one year after the death of his teacher (and brother-in-law) Massari, Malpighi accepted the invitation from the Archduke Leopold of Tuscany to teach in Pisa.
Here he became a member of the Cimento Academy, a group who saw themselves as the heirs to Galileian science in Italy and which included many famous scholars. Malpighi was particularly close to the mathematician Giovanni Alfonso Borelli, who introduced him to iatromechanics. This new study attempted to apply Descartes' philosophy of mechanics to living bodies and, consequently, to consider animals as complex mechanical minds.
Within the circle of the Academy, Malpighi was also introduced to an instrument which was to accompany him for the rest of his life: the microscope.


Fig. 2: 17th century microscope. Armed with a similar instrument, Malpighi launched into the unexplored world of the invisible structures of living organisms. Sadly, no sure trace of Malpighi's original microscopes has been found.

(Marcello Malpighi - page 1 of 3)
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