Malpighi, Marcello (1628–1694)

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Editor: Jonathan Dewald
Date: 2004
Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons
Document Type: Biography
Pages: 2
Content Level: (Level 4)
Lexile Measure: 1270L

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About this Person
Born: March 10, 1626 in Crevalcore, Italy
Died: November 30, 1694 in Rome, Italy
Nationality: Italian
Occupation: Physician
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Page 16


MALPIGHI, MARCELLO (1628–1694), Italian physician and anatomist. Malpighi was born in Crevalcore, near Bologna, on 10 March 1628. He graduated in medicine and philosophy at the University of Bologna in 1653, and he taught logic at the same university until 1656, when he was called to the chair of theoretical medicine at the University of Pisa. Three years later he returned to Bologna, lecturing in theoretical and practical medicine. From 1662 to 1666 he held the chair of primary professor of medicine at the University of Messina. He then returned once more to Bologna, where he taught practical medicine until 1691, the year in which he moved to Rome in the capacity of chief physician to Pope Innocent XII. He died in Rome on 30 November 1694. These institutional settings are of a special importance in understanding his development as an anatomist, physician, and natural philosopher. Although he was trained at Bologna in the traditional course of scholastic disciplines, he also attended with other select students the private dissections and vivisections conducted by the university professor Bartolomeo Massari. In his time at Pisa he met Giovanni Alfonso Borelli (1608–1679), professor of mathematics there, and their ensuing collaboration was crucial in bringing Malpighi closer to corpuscularianism (the idea that the visible properties of matter derive from the interactions of minute particles of matter), to mechanical philosophy (the view that every natural phenomenon can be explained through matter and motion), and to Galileo's natural philosophy. In Messina he found a congenial environment for his investigations on marine animals and the sensory organs. Finally, from 1667, correspondence with Henry Oldenburg and the relationships that he established with the Royal Society brought Malpighi into closer contact with English experimental physiology.

Malpighi's works display a wide range of interests. In De Pulmonibus (On the lungs; Bologna, 1661), composed in the form of two letters addressed to Borelli, he announced his discovery of capillary circulation and gave a detailed account of the vesicular structure of the human lung. In Epistolae Anatomicae de Cerebro ac Lingua (Anatomical letters on the brain and the tongue; Bologna, 1665) and in De Externo Tactus Organo (The external organ of touch; Naples, 1665), he made his discovery of the sensory receptors of the tongue and cutaneous papillae part of a far-reaching project in neuroanatomical research. De Viscerum Structura (The structure of the internal organs; Bologna, 1666) and De Structura Glandularum Conglobatarum (The structure of the conglobate glands; London, 1689) present Malpighi's main theoretical view of the gland as the building block of the body's mechanical structure. In De Bombyce (On the silkworm; London, 1669) he investigated the anatomy of insects, and he gave an accurate description of the development of the chick in De Formatione Pulli in Ovo (The development of the chick in the egg; London, 1673), adding new evidence in support to the preformationist hypothesis, that is, the idea that the organism is already present and fully developed in the seed or egg. In Anatomes Plantarum (Anatomy of plants; London, 1679), Malpighi made use of the microscope and its related techniques in the Page 17  |  Top of Article study of animal and vegetable anatomy with great dexterity and profit. In De Polypo Cordis (On the polyp of the heart; 1666), he argued that the examination of pathological states, natural anomalies, and monstrosities could shed light on the normal functioning of organs and on the general processes of nature, thus laying the foundations for a research program centered on localizing the anatomical seats of disease.

From an anatomical point of view, Malpighi's work is a clear example of experimental investigation conducted in the wake of William Harvey's discovery of the circulation of the blood. Philosophically speaking, the main influence comes from Galileo's redefinition of matter, motion, and nature. Distancing himself from Descartes's extreme views on the mechanization of the body and the thorough identification of natural productivity with mechanical agency, Malpighi did not rule out the animate and sentient character of the body, and he emphasized the unattainability of perfection in the natural mechanics of living beings. Being both a theoretical anatomist and a physician—his Consultationes Medicinales (Medical consultations; Padua, 1713; Venice, 1747) are evidence of his clinical expertise—Malpighi represents the intriguing case of an early modern practitioner confronted with the need to harmonize theory (a new image of the body) and practice (the continuing success of traditional therapy) in the context of the new medical discourse.


Primary Sources

Malpighi, Marcello. The Correspondence of Marcello Malpighi. Edited by Howard Bernhardt Adelmann. Ithaca, N.Y., 1975.

——. Opera Omnia. London, 1686. Rept. New York, 1975.

——. Opera Posthuma. London, 1697, Amsterdam, 1698.

Secondary Sources

Adelmann, Howard Bernhardt. Marcello Malpighi and the Evolution of Embryology. Ithaca, N.Y., 1966.

Bertoloni Meli, Domenico, ed. Marcello Malpighi: Anatomist and Physician. Florence, 1997.


Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3404900687