- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Giovanni Battista Morgagni

Born  1682-02-25
Died  1771-12-05

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Italian anatomist and pathologist, born February 25, 1682, Forlì; died December 5, 1771, Padua.

Biography of Giovanni Battista Morgagni

Giovanni Battista Morgagni was the son of Fabrizio Morgagni and Maria Tornielli. His father died when he was seven years old, and his two elder brothers also died early. His scholarly ability was apparent at an early age, as a young boy he wrote poetry. One of his poems was dedicated to a man who saved him from drowning when he was thirteen years old, and whom he apparently later gave a pension.

After completing his early studies at Forli, in 1698, at sixteen, he studied medicine at Bologna under Ippolito Francesco Albertini (1662-1746), Eustachio Manfredi (1674-1739), Giacomo Sandri (died 1718), and Antonia Maria Vasalva (1666-1723). He received his doctor's degrees in philosophy as well as in medicine in 1701, 19 years of age. Decided to become an anatomist, he subsequently worked in the three hospitals in Bologna, particularly studying anatomy and clinical medicine at the hospital Santa Maria della Morte as prosector to Antonio Maria Valsalva (1666-1723) who gave him the stimulus to devote his life to pathology.

Morgagni was admitted to the Academia degli Inquieti in 1699 and became its head in 1704. He reformed the academy on the model of the Paris Académie Royale des sciences and accepted an invitation to hold meetings in the mansion belonging to Luigi Ferdinandino Marsili, thus paving the way for its incorporation into the Istitutio delle Scienze that was founded by Marsili in 1714. It was to the Inquieti that Morgagni in 1705 communicated his series of lectures, Adversaria anatomica prima, which he also dedicated to them.

Morgagni assisted Valsalva in preparing the latter's last and most celebrated work, De Aure Humana (1704). Morgagni then - in 1706 - succeeded to Valsalva in his position as anatomical demonstrator, but after a time he gave up that post and in the beginning of 1707 moved to Venice, where he stayed through May 1709. Venice offered him the opportunity to study chemistry with Gian Girolamo Zanichelli (1662-1729), to investigate the anatomical structure of the great fishes, and to secure a number of rare and choice books. He also conducted a number of dissections of human cadavers with Gian Domenico Santorini (1681-1737) who was at that time dissector and lector in anatomy at the Venetian medical college

In June 1709 Morgagni returned to Forli, where he practiced medicine with great success. In September 1711 he was invited to Padua as professor in the second chair of theoretical medicine, to replace Antonio Vallisnieri (1661-1730), who had been promoted to the first chair, following the death of Domenico Guglielmini (1655-1710). Morgagni delivered his inaugural lecture, Nova institutionum medicarum idea, on March 17, 1712. In 1715 he was appointed to the first chair of anatomy, a tenure which he held with utmost distinction for the rest of his life. He began his teaching of this subject with an inaugural address on January 21, 1716, and from 1826 was the only professor of this discipline at Padua.

Morgagni was an excellent teacher and a prolific writer. His work Adversaria Anatomica (1706-1719) is a series of researches on fine anatomy. It established his reputation as an accurate anatomist and helped make pathologiacal anatomy an exact science. The first three volumes, containing his research notes on microscopic anatomy were published from 1706 to 1717, while the last volumes, IV to VI, were published in 1719. It was this series of publications that helped make him well known throughout Europe as an accurate anatomist, particularly as he corrected the errors of previous anatomists. Morgagni's studies furnished new and valuable information about the glands of the larynx, trachea and glottal regions, of the male urethra, and of the female genitalia. Also described here are those fine folds of the anal canal, still known as the "columns of Morgagni."

After his Adversaria anatomica of 1719, Morgagni published no major works until 1761, at the age of 79 years. That year appeared his indisputedly most important work, De sedibus, et causis morborum per anatomen indagatis - "Seats and causes of disease investigated by means of anatomy". This work had been years in preparation, and constitutes a foundation of modern pathological anatomy. Vast in scope, it is one of the most fundamentally important works in the history of medicine.

In this enormously wide-ranging work he reports in precise and exhaustive detail his findings in 640 autopsy dissections; the first time correlation was made between the pathology found at postmortem and clinical findings. In it he introduces and insists on the concept that diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of disease must be based on an exact understanding of the pathologic changes in the anatomic structures. It put the final rout to the old humoral pathology. Morgagni's contribution to the understanding of disease may well rank with the contributions of Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) in anatomy and William Harvey (1578-1657) in physiology.

His great work appeared in the same year as another milestone in medical literature: Josef Leopold Auenbrugger’s (1722-1809) Inventum novum ex percussione thoracis humani et signo abstrusos interni pectoris morbos detegendi - «New invention to detect hidden diseases in the chest by way of percussion».

He was the first to describe cerebral gumma and diseases of heart valves, and recorded the first instance of heart block. He described Stokes-Adams' attacks in a patient who was a merchant of Padua: " When visiting by way of consultation, I found with such a rarity of the pulse that within the 60th part of an hour the pulsastions were only 22 - and this rareness which was perpetual - was perceived to be even more considerable, as often as even two (epileptic) attacks were at hand - so that the physicians were never deceived from the increase of the rareness they foretold a paroxysm to be coming on."

Morgagni proved Valsalva’s contention that the cerebral lesion in stroke causing paralysis is on the opposite side of the brain. He described Fallot’s tetralogy, aortic coarctation and pneumonia with consolidation. He belived in contagion and would not dissect patients with tuberculosis or smallpox. Virchow considered that Morgagni introduced modern pathology, «with him begins modern medicine».

He was a brilliant and tireless investigator and, in addition to his work in medicine and anatomy, was a student of the classics, a philosopher and historian, as well as an archaeologist of repute. He died of ruptura cordis, aged 99.

«For those who have dissected or inspected many, have at least learn’d to doubt when the others, who are ignorant of anatomy, and do not take the trouble to attend to it, are in no doubt at all.»
De sedibus et causis morborum per anatomen indagatis.
Volume 1, Book 2. Letter 16. Translated by Alexander.

We thank Sandro Ranzoni for information submitted.


  • Adversaria anatomica prima. Bologna 1706.
  • Nova institutionum medicarum idea.
    Padua, 1712; Leiden, 1740.
  • Adversaria anatomica altera et tertia. Padua, 1717.
  • Adversaria anatomica quarta, quinta, et sexta.
    Padua, 1719; 1743; Venice, 1762; Leiden, 1723, 1740; 1741-1750.
  • Adversaria anatomica omnia.
    Volumes IV through VI of above. Padua, 1719. Leiden, 1723; Venice, 1762.
    Disse to er samme. Men hva er riktig tittel?
  • In Aur. Cornelium Celsum et Quintum Serenum Samonicum epistolae.
    Padua, 1722; den Haag, 1724; Leiden, 1735; Padua, 1750; Venice, 1763; Leiden 1785.
    This short work, dedicated to Lorenz Heister (1683-1758), contains four letters that Morgagni wrote to his friend and colleague, Giovanni Battista Volpi, during 1720 and 1721. Published for the first time in 1724, three of the letters are commentaries on the works of Aurelius Cornelius Celsus (ca 25 B.C. to ca 37 A.D.) and one on the works of Quintus Serenus Samonicus (died 211 or 212).
  • Epistolae anatomicae duae.
    Leiden, 1728; Padua, 1740; Venice, 1762.
  • Epistolae anatomicae duodeviginti ad scripta pertinentes celeberrimi viri A. M. Valsalvae. Venice, 1740.
    Eller: Epistolarum anatomicarum duodeviginti ad scripta pertinentium A. M. Valsalvae. Venice, 1780.
  • De sedibus et causis morborum per anatomen indagatis libri quinque. 2 volumes.
    (On the Seats and causes of Diseases Investigated by Anatomy)
    Venetiis, typog. Remondiniana 1761; Naples, 1762; Padua, 1765; Leiden, 1767, 1778; Yverdon, 3 volumes, 1779; Leipzig, 1821-1829 (6 volumes, ed. Radius); Paris, 1820-1822.
    Italian translation in 3 volumes, Florence, 1838.
    German, Altenburg 1771-1776, Leipzig 1827-1829);
    French, Paris, 1765; 1820-1823).
    English translation in 3 volumes by B. Alexander, London, 1769).
    Selections reproduced in Medical Classics, 1940, 4: 640-838.
    Classic descriptions of mitral stenosis (Letter III) and heart block, Adams-Stokes syndrome (volume 1, p. 70) are reprinted in English translation in Willius & Keys, Cardiac Classics, 1941, pp. 177-182.
    Facsimile reprint, New York, Hafner, 1960; Mount Kisco, N.Y., Futura, 1980.
    An authentic case of angina pectoris is recorded by Morgagni. He observed it in 1707. Volume 1, page 282.
  • Opuscula miscellanea . . . tres in partes divisa.
    3 parts in 1 volume. Venice 1763; Naples, 1763.
    This collection of some of his lesser writings includes tracts on gallstones, certain medico-legal matters, letters to Giovanni Maria Lancisi (1654-1720) on the manner of Cleopatra's death, and Morgagni's biography of his teacher, Valsalva.
  • Opera Omnia.
    Venice, 1764; Padua, 1764; Bassani, 1765.
  • Carteggio inedito di G. B. M. con Giovanni Bianchi.
    Ed. G. Bilancioni. Bari, 1914.
  • Opera postuma. Rome, 1964-1969.

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