Antonio Vallisneri Senior (1661-1730)
Antonio Vallisneri, son of Lorenzo, "Doctor of Law" and Maria Lucrezia Davini, was born in Trassilico, in Garfagnana in the Capitan age of the Grand Duchy of Modena. The oldest of six brothers, he completed his primary schooling in Scandiano, where his parents came from, and furthered his studies in Modena with the Jesuits, and subsequently in Reggio. In 1683, the twenty-two-year-old went to study Medicine in Bologna but, following an ordinance by the Grand Duke obliging subjects to take their degree where they came from, he obtained a diploma in 1685 at the College of Reggio. Following an ancient and wise tradition, after his degree he did not abandon his studies, but rather returned to Bologna to specialize in Natural Philosophy and Anatomy under the guidance of Marcello Malpighi (1628-1694); he also practised dissections at private 'academies', such as that of Doctor Bonaveri. He subsequently broadened his medical and scientific knowledge in Venice, Padova and Parma. Though hindered by some controversy when he returned to Scandiano in 1689, he was able to make a name for himself as a practising doctor. This profession did not, however, satisfy his passion for naturalistic studies. In fact, during his travels and excursions he made observations on the generation of insects, the organic nature of fossils and the origin of the sources of watercourses which led him to elaborate some of his most interesting and innovative theories. At this time, according to the best traditions of the age, Vallisneri started his own personal garden of medicinal plants and went on excursions looking for interesting minerals and plants, thus laying the foundations for what was to become one of the most famous medical-naturalistic museums of Italy.
On 27 April 1692, at the age of 31, he married the fifteen-year-old Laura Mattacodi who, as we learn from Vallisneri's Giornale di casa (home journal), went through 18 difficult pregnancies. Here we mention only Antonio Junior (1708-1777) who also became a university professor and whose name is linked above all to the diffusion and continuation of his father's work.
Vallisneri's life took a decisive turn in 1700, when he was asked to fill the chair of Practical Medicine, together with the older, better-known Bernardino Ramazzini (1633-1714), because the previous teacher Pompeo Sacchi (1634-1718) transferred to Theoretical Medicine. In his inaugural speech, he sought, in an accommodating tone, to demonstrate that more recent studies were not in contrast with, but rather confirmed the theories of the ancients. Furthermore, he intended to "win over his listeners so that they would slowly and painlessly become accustomed to modern doctrines and - so Eloy keenly continues in his Dizionario Storico della Medicina (Historical Dictionary of Medicine 1765) - so that he would not alienate himself from the majority who had not yet accepted many modern discoveries; there were even some who continued to negate the circulation of blood."
Certain representatives of the academic corps "whose heads were filled with those out-of-date and false theories" (Eloy, 1765), however, soon realised that his true intentions were to oppose Aristotelianism - which at the time still had a great following - with a new philosophy, in part derived from Galileian experimentalism and in part from Cartesian Rationalism. Seemingly it was only the support of certain influential Venetian personages, whose admiration he had won during his frequent sojourns in the city, that helped him get through that difficult moment unscathed and, in particular, to continue in the direction he had chosen. It was with their help that in 1709 he transferred to the chair De pulsibus et urinis - similar to what is now called Semiotics - and, following the death of Domenico Guglielmini (1655-1710) - to the prestigious chair of Theoretical Medicine in primo loco, which he maintained until his death.
His interest in nature also attracted criticism from his colleagues who considered his research too far from the art of healing, if not pointless. On this subject we can today affirm, with no disregard for his eminently medical works, that without a doubt his best writings were those dedicated to Natural Philosophy.
The fact that Vallisneri was a strong advocate of the Italian language and used it in his writings as opposed to Latin, which was still the official language of the international scientific community even in the eighteenth century, certainly contributed to the disproportion between Vallisneri's fame before and after his death.
The three volumes of Opere Fisico-Mediche (Physico-Medical Works) (Coletti, Venezia 1733), edited post-humously by his son Antonio Junior, are testimony of Vallisneri's considerable literary production. Unless otherwise indicated, all the citations which accompany the exhibits come from this collection of Vallisneri's writings.
Antonio Vallisneri junior (1708-1777)
When Antonio Vallisneri Junior was born, on 5 June 1708, his father was a forty-seven-year old professor at the University of Padova and Laura Mattacodi, his mother, was thirty-one and at her thirteenth pregnancy. The only male of the five children who lived to be adults, Antonio Vallisneri Junior followed in his father's footsteps and it can certainly be said that he spent his whole life, if not in the shadows of the imposing paternal figure, at least in his reflection.
His first, and most noteworthy undertaking was to collect Antonio Senior's vast literary production which he then published after his father's death under the title Opere Fisico-Mediche (Coletti, Venezia 1733). The first three large volumes in folio contain Notizie della vita e degli studi del Kavalier Antonio Vallisneri, (Information on the life and works of the Cavalier Antonio Vallisneri) which includes the Catalogo (Catalogue) of the objects which made up the Vallisneri Museum. The medical-naturalistic collections, which Antonio Senior had dedicated himself to for many years, were another interest the two shared, and the underlying theme running through Antonio Junior's subsequent academic career. Following the advice of the shrewd Giovanni Battista Morgagni (1681-1771), the young Vallisneri in fact donated his father's museum to the University and on 2 January 1734, the Eccellentissimo Senato Veneto accepted the donation and at the same time gave the generous heir the chair Descrizione e dimostrazione dei semplici non vegetabili, i.e. the chair dedicated to therapeutic substances which are not of vegetal origin. Once again thanks to the intervention of Morgagni, one of the most influential professors at the University, Vallisneri's aim of making the collection public and turning it into a laboratory for students materialised. Furthermore, the teaching of "Natural history, too great a subject to be left in silence" proposed at the beginning of the eighteenth century by the erudite Scipione Maffei (1675-1755), also took shape. This was one of the remedies that was to modernise the ancient - and in some cases antiquated - Padovan University. Thus the first museum linked to a university was born and this led to the establishment of several of the present museums and collections of the University Institutes and Departments. The Vallisneri collection was subsequently enriched by several donations from the nineteenth century onwards, following new academic subdivisions.
The donation to the University of Padova Library - after the death of Antonio Junior - of about one thousand volumes collected by the two Vallisneri in over a century of scientific activity was also part of this same project. Even today, it is sometimes possible to have books bearing the name Vallisneri accompanied by the letters p.p.p.p. - Publicus Primarius Professor Patavinus - symbol of a title which university professors, starting with the cited Morgagni - Princeps anatomicorum - were always proud to bear.
Main works of Vallisneri Senior
1696. Saggio de' dialoghi sopra la curiosa origine di molti insetti, "Galleria di Minerva", I, pp. 297-322, Albrizzi, Venezia.
1700. Secondo dialogo sopra la curiosa origine di molti insetti, "Galleria di Minerva", III, pp. 297-318, Albrizzi, Venezia.
1700. Dialoghi sopra la curiosa origine di molti insetti, Albrizzi, Venezia.
1710. Prima raccolta d'osservationi e d'esperienze, Albrizzi, Venezia.
1710. Considerazioni, ed esperienze intorno al creduto cervello di bue impietrito, Stamperia del Seminario, Padova.
1710. Considerazioni, ed esperienze intorno alla generazione de' vermi ordinarj del corpo umano, Stamperia del Seminario, Padova.
1713. Esperienze, ed osservazioni intorno all'origine, sviluppi, e costumi di varj insetti, Stamperia del Seminario, Padova.
1713. Nuove osservazioni, ed esperienze intorno all'ovaja scoperta ne' vermi tondi dell'uomo, e de' vitelli, Stamperia del Seminario, Padova.
1714. Istoria del camaleonte affricano, Ertz, Venezia.
1714. Nuova idea del male contagioso de' buoi, Pandolfo, Milano.
1714. Lezione accademica intorno all'origine delle fontane, Ertz, Venezia.
1721. Istoria della generazione dell'uomo e degli animali, se sia da' vermicelli spermatici o dalle uova, con un trattato nel fine della sterilità, e dei suoi rimedj, Hertz, Venezia.
1721. De' corpi marini, che su' monti si trovano, Lovisa, Venezia.
1725. Dell'uso, e dell'abuso delle bevande, e bagnature calde, o fredde, Capponi, Modena.
1726. Esperienze ed osservazioni, Tipografia del Seminario, Padova.
1733. Opere fisico-mediche, Sebastiano Coleti, Venezia.
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