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Vallisnieri [Vallisneri], Antonio

1. Dates
Born: Trassilico (then in Modena), 3 May 1661
Died: Padua, 18 Jan 1730
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 69
2. Father
Occupation: Government Official, Aristocrat
Lorenzo Vallisnieri was governor of the territory of Camporgiano and then of Trassilico. Through his mother, Vallisnieri was related to C. Magati. The family were Parmese patricians of very long standing; there was another branch of the family in Reggio.
The circumstances of Vallisnieri's youth and extended education, without evident compulsion quickly to earn a living, clearly indicate affluence at the very least. It is worth noting that Vallisnieri married a woman from a noble family. Franchini speaks, not of alluence, but of riches. I am accepting this.
3. Nationality
Birth: Italian
Career: Italian
Death: Italian
4. Education
Schooling: Reggio, M.D., P.D.; Bologna
Vallisnieri began his education at the Jesusit college in Modena and then went to a Catholic College (this was the term; it must refer to the university) in Reggio nell'Emilia. B.A. in 1682.
In 1682 he went to Bologna for a time to study with Malpighi, but in obedience to a decree by the Duke of Modena that his subjects should take their laurels at home, he returned to Reggio for both M.D. and Ph.D. (a common Italian combination in that age).
After completing the degrees, he continued to study for a couple of years at Bologna and then in 1687 in Venice. He visited Padua, but there is no reference to regular study there.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Entomology, Embryology, Natural History
Subordinate: Natural Philosophy, Medicine, Geology
While practicing in Regio, Vallisnieri collected, dissected, and observed. Especially he was interested in the generation of insects, leading to Sopra la curiosa origine di molti insetti, a work which followed Redi and Malpighi in its rejection of spontaneous generation. He did research as well on human and animal reproduction. In Padua he collected a considerable museum of natural history.
Vallisnieri developed the theory of the chain of being with man, of course, at the pinnacle. He was also an admirer of Democritus, whom he considered the father of true natural philosophy, and along with that an exponent of iatromechanics and of mechanistic ideas of preformation.
As a physician he was convinced that medicine must cease to depend upon philosophy, as in the past, but should look rather to biology. He also studied the etiology of infectious diseases.
His interest in natural history led on to investigations of movements of the earth, the origin of springs, and the origin of alluvial valleys. He also investigated fossils.
It is difficult to judge Vallisnieri. He ranged over a very large number of related fields. He could be listed also under anatomy, physiology, microscopy, zoology, botany, mineralogy, and paleontology. (Some of these are subsumed under medicine and some under natural history.) At the same time it is not wholly clear that he was an important original scientist, but may have been more a reflection of the dominant trends of his age.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine, Academia, Personal Means
Secondary: Government
After completing his medical education, Vallisnieri practiced in Reggio for more than ten years, beginning in 1689.
His book (or paper) on insects came to the attention of one of the Riformatori of Padua, who arranged for his appointment to the chair of experimental philosophy in 1700, with an initial salary of 350 florins. Even before he arrived he was moved to the chair of practical medicine. After 1709 he occupied the chair of theoretical medicine.
Vallisnieri was the heir of his uncle, the personal physician of the Dukes of Modena, and from the uncle, in 1681, he inherited what is described as a considerable fortune. The following year, 1682, another uncle left his estate to Vallisnieri's father; Vallisnieri received half of it.
After 1713 he had a salaried position in the hospital of Padua.
He declined an invitation to succeed Lancisi as physician to the Pope, and he also declined a chair at the University of Torino at what is described as an enormous salary.
It is clear that he continued to practice medicine during his academic tenure in Padua.
8. Patronage
Types: Government Official, City Magistrate, Aristrocrat, Court Official
Vallisnieri dedicated his undergraduate thesis to Luigi d'Este, Governor of Reggio. The Este family recommended him to Malpighi. I also found a reference to a dedication in 1682 (which was the year of his B.A.) to Andrea Lombardini, the Governor of Scandiano; frankly I am puzzled by the reference.
I include Federico Marcello, one of the Riformatori of Padua and Procuratore di San Marco, who engineered Vallisnieri's appointment at Padua. This is the essence of patronage, to recognize talent and to promote it. And when the old guard at Padua attacked Vallisnieri's promotion of recent science and medicine, Marcello came to his defense.
In 1718 Duke Rinaldo of Modena made Vallisnieri a member of the hereditary nobilty (i.e., a knight).
Reggio also ennobled him.
Vallisnieri, who was a member of the Leopoldina, dedicated his History of Generation to Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor. Vallisnieri became physician to the Emperor (though he did not leave Padua for Vienna), and from him he received a golden necklace.
He dedicated many of his books to the various academies of which he was a member.
There are vague general references to his medical attendance of aristocrats and rulers, but no one is named.
He dedicated his book about sea fossils to Contessa Clelia Grillo Borromeo, who was his friend and supporter. There are hints that she was also his lover.
Like Redi, Vallisnieri, who was apparentlay wealthy as well as very successfull, became something of a patron; that is, according to Tiraboschi, many books were dedicated to him. Tiraboschi does not, however, supply even one name.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Medical Practice
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Royal Society, Academia Leopoldina, Institute Bologna, Medical College
FRS in 1705.
A member of the Accademia Cesarea Leopoldina de' Curiosi (to use its name as I found it in an Italian source).
A fellow in 1707 of the Istituto delle Scienze of Bologna.
He was a member of the medical colleges of Venice, Padua, and Reggio.
Vallisnieri was a member also of a considerable array of local Italian academies that were not scientific--such as the Accademia de' Fisiocritici of Siena, the Accademia degli Ricovrati of Padua, the Accademia Fiorentina, the Arcadia of Rome, the Accademia di Rosana (I don't know what city), the Arconti d'Italia, and others that I did not choose to write down.
Vallisnieri apparently corresponded with most of the leading scientists (mostly but not entirely life scientists) of his time, including Bellini, Lister, Leibniz, and Marsili. His extended correspondence with Cestoni has been published.
  1. Giannartico di Porcia, "Notizie della vita e degli studi del Kavalier Antonio Vallisneri," in Vallisnieri's Opera fisico- mediche, (Venice, 1733), xli-lxxx.
  2. Joseph Franchini, "A. Vallisnieri on the Second Centenary of his Death," Annals of Medical History, n.s., 3, (1931), 58-68.
  3. Il metodo sperimentale in biologia da Vallisnieri ad oggie, a symposium on Vallisnieri at the Univ. of Padua in 1962. A supplement to Atti e memorie dell'Accademia patavino di scienze, lettere ed arti, 73.
  4. P. Capparoni, Profili bio-bibliografici di medici e naturalisti celebri italiani dal sec. XV al sec. XVII, 2 vols. (Rome, 1928) 1, 88-91. 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.
  5. Roberto Savelli, "L'opera biologica di Antonio Vallisnieri," Physis, 3 (1961), 269-308.
  6. G. Tiraboschi, Bibliotheca modense, 5, 322-36.
  7. P.A. Saccardo, "La botanica in Italia," Memorie del Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, 26 (1895), 168-9, and 27 (1901), 111.
  8. Dezeimeris, J.E. Ollivier and Raige-Delorme, Dictionnaire historique de la medecine ancienne et moderne, 4 vols. (Paris, 1828-39), 4, 304-6. 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. Bruno Brunelli, Figurine e costumi nella correspondenza di un medico del settecento (Vallisnieri), (Milan, 1938).
  2. Paolo Masat Lucchetta, "Nuovi documenti per la biografia di Antonio Vallisnieri," Quaderni stor. Univ. Padua, 15 (1982), 131-45. I have not succeeded in identifying the journal in this reference.
  3. Ercole Ferrario, Su la vita e gli scritti di Antonio Vallisnieri, (Milan, 1854).
  4. A. Fabroni, Vitae italiorum doctrina excellentium, (Pisa, 1778), 7, 9-90.
  5. Antonio Vallisneri, Epistolario, vol. 1 (1679-1710), ed. Dario Generali, (Milano, 1991).
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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