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Girolamo Fabrici

Born 1537-05-20
Died 1619-05-21

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Italian surgeon and anatomist, born May 20, 1537, Aquapendente, Aquilia Tuscia near Orvieto; died May 21, 1619, Padua. His name is also given as: Hierunymus Fabricius ab Aquapendente, Girolamo Fabrizi, Hieronymus Fabritius, Girolamo Fabrizi d'Acquapendente.

Biography of Girolamo Fabrici

Girolamo Fabrici was one of the most outstanding Rainaissance anatomists, and one of the founders of modern embryology. 

Fabricius was the eldest son born to a noble and once wealthy family. Around 1550 his family sent him to Padua where he came under the patronage of a patrician Venetian family named Lippomano. He was renowned for his sharp wits and his extraordinary memory. 

Fabrici studied Greek, Latin, logic and philosophy at the University of Padua. Then went on to medicine, becoming a pupil of the famous anatomist Gabriele Fallopio (1523–1563), with whom he soon enjoyed a close personal contact. The fruits of his familiary association with Fallopio is said to be collected in a work of his entitled Commentaries, now assumed lost. He also assisted his teacher in surgical operations and other practical medical work, above all in the then still only rarely occuring anatomiocal dissections. 

After receiving his degree in medicine and philosphy in Padua in about 1559, Fabrici practiced medicine for some time in that city, particularly as a Wundarzt. During the years 1563 to 1565 he devoted himself to giving private anatomy lessons.  In April 1565 he was nominated by the university to lecture on both anatomy and surgery. The position brought him an annual salary of 100 florins and entailed additional responsibilities in anatomical work. Fabricius presented his first lecture on December 18, 1566 and held his tenure until 1613. He was repeatedly reconfirmed in his academic position - with appropriate raises in pay - and in 1600 was given life tenure, with the title sopraordinario. From 1609 on anatomy and surgert were given separately, and Fabrici became sopraordinario lecturer in anatomy only, retaining his full salary, however, which by that time amounted to 100 scudi a year. He retired from teaching in 1613, having served the University of Padua for nearly fifty years. 

Fabrici’s long academic career was not without strife. In 1588 he was publicly accused by his students of neglecting his teaching - a charge that would seem to have some ground in truth, but which may be explained in part by Fabrici’s repeated illnesses. Certainly he was a difficult character, as may be seen by his clash with his German students, whom he ridiculed in the course of a public lecture in February 1589 because of their slow and harsh speech - the quarrel was reconciled only in October of that year.
Fabricius further became embroiled in a protest in 1597 about having been placed after the professors of philosophy on the Rotula of the university; he had an argument in 1608 with Eustachio Rudio; became involved in a dispute about the schedule of courses with his colleague Annibale Bimbiolo in 1611; and in 1613 attempted to prevent the nomination of a German councillor of the university because he was annoyed with the German students for attending the private anatomy classes given by Giulio Casseri.

It is likely too, that Fabrici slighted his teaching duties in the interest of scientific research. He did, however, make substantial contributions to the university. Among other things, and at great personal costs, he built a large anatomical theatre in which he performed his disseecttions. It was built in 1594 and inaugurated by him in 1595. The theater is still preserved, and now bearing Fabrici’s name. 
Fabrici took active part in matters concening the university: in 1574 he was instrumental in securing the acquittal of a German student from a charge of homiside; in 1591 he intervened on behalf of some German students who had been arrested for carrying arms; in 1592-1593 he concerned himself with the reconstruction of the temporary anatomical theater and in 1595 with free admission to the permanent theaer; in 1606 he again acted on behalf of an arrested German student; and in the winter of 1608-1609 he gave a cadaver to the German students, among whom were Olaus Worm and Caspar Bartholin, so that they could prepare the skeleton. It is thus clear that his his relations with his students imporved in the passage of time. 
 
He was a active as a writer until his death in May 1619.

Fabricius was the founder of comparative embryology, but followed Galen’s view in most questions, and even used Galen’s words in his work. In De Formato Foeto (1600) (On the Formation of the Fetus), he summarizes his investigations of the fetal development of many animals, including man. The book contains the first detailed description of the placenta and opened the field of comparative embryology. He also gave the first full account of the Larynx as a vocal organ and was first to demonstrate that the pupil of the eye changes its size.
One of the most famous - and most thoroughly studied - og Fabrici’s work is De venarum ostiolois. The treatise, published in Padua, consists of twenty-three folio pages, supplemented by eight beautiful plates. In it Fabrici reports that he had first observed the valves of the veins in 1574; the first demonstration to his students was in 1578 or 1579. Although the valves of the veins had been studied previously by Giovanni Battista Canano (1515-1579) and by Amato Lusitano (1511-1568). indeed, a dispute arising therefrom had involved Vesalius, Eustachi, and Falloppio; Fabrici made no 
Fabrici’s interest in reconciling his observations with the traditional Galenic concepts of functions misled him into missing the real significance of the venous valves, however. He accepts the notion of the blood flowing centrifugally, drawn by the viscera, and interpret the function of the venous valves to be the slowing down of of the influx of the blood to provide for its even distribution to various parts of the body.

In "De visione, voce, auditu" he also gave the first description of lraynx as the organ of speech. The major portion of this work on the organs of vision, speech, and hearing is devoted to the eye, and it is clear that Fabrici was one of the first to grasp the true form and proper location of the lens. Although his description of the ear is sound, it contributed no new knowledge about the ear or the sense of hearing. An extremely competent comparative anatomist, he was at his best in dealing with the laryngeal apparatus. It is of the greatest interest that he described the Decidua uterina in women, and his declaration: «Membranosa placentae substantia quaedem, caeteris membranis crasior, quae utero annectitur, lacerata; ut chorion et aqua appareant.» He was also the first to describe the development of sharks, snakes, and birds. 
His book Opera chirurgica described techniques entirely new for that age. It was reprinted many times, even into the eighteenth century. 
He described the formation of the egg in his work De formatione ovi pennatorum pennati uterorum historia, usually referred to as De formatione ovi et pulli.
As a surgeon and physician Fabrici enjoyed high professional acclaim and the patronage of many eminent people. In 1581 he attented a brother of the duke of Mantua; in 1591 he was consulted by the duke of  Urbino about the cure for certain fevers that were rampant in Pesro; and in 1594 he corresponded with Mercuriale and Tagliacozzi about a case of rectogenital fistula. He went to Florence in 1604 to treat Carlo de’ Medici, the son of Ferdinand I and Christina di Lorena, while in 1606 he visited Galileo, who subsequently became his patient. He visited Venice with Spigelio on October 9, 1607, and while he was there took care of Paolo Sarpi, who had been wounded a few days before; for these services he was made a knight of St. Mark. by the Republic of Venice.

At some unknown time Fabrici married Violante Vidal. They had no children and she died in 1618. Fabrici had an illegitimate son, Francesco, probably born before his marriage. Francesco also took his degree in medicine but was a source of little pleasure or pride to his father - in fact, a quarrel over money brought father an son into legal confrontation. Fabrici had serious disagreements with other close relatives as well. The person to whom he was closest was his great-grandniece, Semidea, whom he adopted on the death of her father and raised as his daughter in Padua. He married her to Daniele Dolfin on May 9, 1619.  On May 13 he fell ill and died a few days later, almost certainly at his house in Padua. His funeral took place on May 23, in the Franciscan chruch; the oration was given by Giovanni Tuilio, and he was buried sine titulo in the west cloister.

Fabrici’s fame and salary continued to grow with his success and his reappointment as the chair of anatomy within the University. He was admitted to the College of Philosophy and Medicine 12 May 1584, when he resigned his position as the chair of surgery in favor of Julius Casserius. By 1589 however, Fabrici was reappointed to the chair for the fourth time. In 1594 Fabrici influenced the construction of and later inaugurated the university’s first permanent anatomical theater, which is still preserved and bears Fabrici’s name. There he gave lectures and performed many anatomical demonstrations, dissecting the uterus and placenta of a pregnant woman in 1586. He began lectures on the formation of the fetus in 1589 and provided private lessons on the subject of embryology in 1592. Fabrici was given life tenure in 1600 and awarded Supraordinarius of anatomy, and by 1603 he ascended to the title of Professor Supraordinarius in surgery. In 1609 the chair of anatomy and surgery were separated by formal decree, and Fabrici retained only the title of Supraordinarius of anatomy
As a scientist, Fabrici was an indefatigable and scrupulous observer, describing his results with exactitude. His interpretation of observed phenomena was ofte shaped by tradition, however, and he may not be considered a comparative anatomist in the modern sense because he made no studies of homologous structures and did not attempt to analyze relationships and affinities of the organs that he studied.  

Fabrici’s primary purpose in his fetal anatomy, for example, was to prepare a tool for the interpretation of the purpose and end of the organs under consideration; he was more concerned with finding philosophically based principles than with morphological detail and tended to modify observations that did not verify such principles. Thus he often failed to pursue his own discoveries to their logical conclusions. His interpretation of nature was, then, a teleological one, and his methods of observation derived largely from Galen. 

Fabricius’ pioneering achievement was his contribution to developmental history, and, above all, as the founder of comparative embryology. Still, he followed galen's view in most areas, even using his actual words. I his book "De Formato Foetu" (1600) - On the Formation of the Fetus - Fabricius summarises his investigations of the fetal development of many animals, including man. The book contains the first detailed description of the placenta and opened the field of comparative embryology. 
Fabricius built a reputation that  attracted students from all of Europe, one of them the English anatomist William Harvey. Fabrici in 1603 observed the valves of the veins and demonstrated them to his students. Harvey later told Robert Boyle that it was this observation from his former teacher that set him on the concept of the circulation of the blood. In De Venarum Ostiolis (1603) (On the Valves of the Veins), Fabricius gave the first clear description of the semilunar valves of the veins, which later provided Harvey with a crucial point in his famous argument for circulation of the blood in De motu cordis.

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