Mondino de' Luzzi

The Italian anatomist Mondino de' Luzzi (ca. 1265-1326) prepared an anatomical treatise that has been considered the first modern work on anatomy.

The date and place of birth of Mondino de' Luzzi, as well as other aspects of his life and writings, have long been subjects of scholarly debate. Certain authorities claim that he was a native of Florence or Milan, but it seems likely that he was born in Bologna, where he lived during his boyhood, studied, and, during his adult years, taught and became famous.

Mondino, also known as Mundinus, whose name was probably a diminutive for Raimondo or Rimondo, registered at the College of Medicine of the University of Bologna in 1290 and also is known to have studied in the College of Philosophy. His academic ability is reflected in the fact that he had become a public lecturer at the university by 1314 and that he remained in that capacity until 1324.

During the first decades of the 14th century, Bologna was world-renowned as a center for anatomical studies based on human dissection. The first such recorded anatomical exploration occurred for medicolegal reasons at Bologna in 1302, but it is generally believed that academic dissections had been carried out previously. In any event, Mondino reports that in January 1315 he conducted such a procedure on the body of a woman, affording him the opportunity to examine and study human uterine anatomy.

Before the end of the following year, Mondino completed his Anathomia. Despite its title, his treatise resembles less a modern anatomical textbook that describes structures in relation to the systems of the body than it does a dissecting manual. In the Anathomia, organs are discussed in the order they appeared to the dissector, and as preservatives were unknown, dissections were performed as rapidly as possible upon the most perishable parts of the body first. Hence, Mondino's work deals with structures in the abdominal cavity initially, then with those of the thoracic cage, and finally with the head and the extremities.

Professors who succeeded Mondino conducted anatomical demonstrations by reading statements, appropriate or not, from classical texts while an assistant actually performed the procedure, but Mondino has been commended for having dissected cadavers himself. Evidence in the Anathomia of his firsthand experience is rare, however, and the work abounds with accounts of structures found not in the human body but only in authoritative writings. His descriptions of a five-lobed liver, a seven-celled uterus, and of three cardiac ventricles illustrate that often Mondino dissected in order to prove rather than to test the truth of statements in his sources.

These limitations notwithstanding, the Anathomia enjoyed considerable success and was acclaimed as a significant work even before Mondino's death. It was the most popular textbook on anatomy during the period between 1470 and 1530, being replaced only when new texts were written by men who also undertook to study the structure of the human body by means of direct observation and dissection.

Further Reading on Mondino de' Luzzi

Material in English on Mondino is scarce. Perhaps the best account of his Anathomia is in Charles Singer, A Short History of Anatomy from the Greeks to Harvey (2d ed. 1957; first published as The Evolution of Anatomy, 1925). Biographical facts on Mondino are in the English edition of Arturo Castiglioni, A History of Medicine, translated by E. B. Krumbhaar (1941; 2d ed. rev. 1947). For background see Ralph H. Major, A History of Medicine, vol. 1 (1954), and Benjamin Lee Gordon, Medieval and Renaissance Medicine (1959).

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