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Valsalva, Anton [Antonio] Maria

1. Dates
Born: Imola, 17 January 1666
Died: Bologna, 2 February 1723
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 57
2. Father
Occupation: Merchant, Aristocrat
Pompeo Pini (who adopted the name Valsalva from the location of the family home) was both a goldsmith and the scion of a noble family.
He is said to have been well-to-do, which I translate as affluent.
3. Nationality
Birth: Italian
Career: Italian
Death: Italian
4. Education
Schooling: Bologna, MD, PD.
After initial education by the Jesuits, Valsalva went to Bologna to study philosophy and mathematics. There he studied also with Malpighi, whose favorite student he became.
In a usual Italian way, both M.D. and Ph.D. in 1687.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Anatomy, Physiology
Subordinate: Medicine, Srg.
Valsalva's most important work, De aure humana, on the ear, treated both its anatomy and physiology and also its pathology and therapy. His contributions to anatomy and physiology, always with pathology and therapy woven in, were far from confined to the ear.
He experimented on the origins of hemiplegia and studied internal secreting glands.
As a physician he was an expert clincian. He was also an innovative surgeon, especially in the handling of aneurisms. He was also a reformer of the treatment of the insane, opposing the harsh treatment that was common.
Valsalva was responsible as well for improvements in medical education in Bologna.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine, Academia
Secondary: Government
In 1687, immediately upon the completion of his degree, Valsalva was appointed Inspector of Public Health in Bologna, on the occasion of an epidemic, and about twelve years later, when there was an epidemic among cattle, the Senate of Bologna set him in charge of containing it.
He practised at the Ospedale degli Incurabili in Bologna for twenty-five years. He is said to have been consulted by the most eminent people from many places for his diagnoses.
In 1694 the Senate elected him Professor for Dissecting and Demonstrating Anatomy. (In Latin, Incissionem et Ostensionem Anatomicam Professore, which for some reason people render as Engraver of Anatomy, which surely cannot be correct.)
In 1705, despite the fact that he was not a native born Bolognese, the Senate appointed Valsalva Lecturer and Demonstrator in Anatomy at the University, where he continued until his death.
8. Patronage
Type: City Magistrate
Valsalva does not appear to have been one of the frantic pursuers of patronage. Nevertheless he won the favor of the Senate which created a special position for him in 1694. In 1704 he dedicated his magnum opus, De aure, to the Senate and the following year, despite not being a born Bolognese, he received the chair at the university.
The Pope (I forget his name, but I assume it was the one from Bologna late in the century) wished to appoint Valsalva as his personal physician; Valsalva chose to remain at the university.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Instruments
In addition to his active practice, Valsalva invented surgical instruments that were of great use.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Medical College, Institute Bologna, Royal Society
Valsalva is said to have been enrolled in the register of Bolognese physicians in 1687; I interpret this to mean the College of Medicine.
He carried on an extensive correspondence with Italian scientists of his age: Vallisnieri, Lancisi, Pacchioni, Morgagni (who was his student), Manfredi, et al., and also with Vieussens in Montpellier.
In Bologna he joined with Guglielmini, Beccari, Manfredi, et al., to organize the Accademia degli Inquieti. Later he was three times president of the Academy of Sciences in the Institute of Bologna.
With Malpighi he was named a fellow of the Royal Society.
  1. P. Capparoni, Profili bio-bibliografici di medici e naturalisti celebri italiani dal sec. XV al sec. XVII, 2 vols. (Rome, 1928) 1, 92-4. In the copy I have, vol. 1 is from the second ed, and vol. 2 from the first. I gather that pagination in the two editions is not identical.
  2. D. Barduzzi, "Di un maestro insigne precursore della medicina moderna nel secolo XVII," Rivista di storia delle scienze mediche e naturali, 19 (1928), 123-32.
  3. G. Bilancioni, "La figura e l'opera di Valsalva," Rivista di storia delle scienze mediche e naturali, 14 (1923), 319-40.
  4. A. Castiglioni, "Antonio Maria Valsalva," Medical Life, 39 (1932), 83-107.
  5. Dezeimeris, J.E. Ollivier and Raige-Delorme, Dictionnaire historique de la medecine ancienne et moderne, 4 vols. (Paris, 1828-39), 4, 306. The names, without first names or initials except for Ollivier, appear this way on volume 1; Dezeimeris alone appears on the remaining volumes.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Morgagni, De vita et scriptis . . . Valsalva, (Venice, 1740).
  2. R. Barocini, tr. Vita di A.M. Valsalva scritta da Morgagni, (Imola, 1887).
  3. Terzo centenario della nascita de A.M. Valsalva, (Imola, 1966). This does not appear to exist in the U.S.
  4. Paride Ravanelli, A.M. Valsalva (1666-1723), (Imola, 1966).
  5. Serafino Gaddoni, La famiglia del medico imolese Antonio Maria Valsalva, (Imola, 1932).
  6. A.M. Valsalva, Tratto del orecchio umano, tr. V. Mangano, intro.
  7. G. Bilancioni, (Rome, 1931).
  8. G. Bilancioni, Valsalva. Le opere e l'uomo, (Rome, 1911).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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1995 Al Van Helden
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