Renaissance Society of America Conference, Venice, April 2010

Abstracts of papers related to some of the themes in the project being given at the Renaissance society of America conference in Venice, April 8th-10th 2010. For the main website follow this link.


Preventing illness occupied an important place in Renaissance medical thought. Keeping healthy meant adopting a correct lifestyle. It was primarily in the domestic routine of the home that the precepts of healthy living, widely popularized in advice literature, were implemented. Household objects and spatial arrangements played a crucial role in the daily performance of preventative practices: from purifying the air to storing food and clothing correctly. Our paper will explore the physical forms taken by these instructions, considering both the objects primarily involved in health maintenance and those that simultaneously fulfilled demands associated with order, gender, display and status. Glass mirrors embodied a taste for novelty, yet were believed to be beneficial for the eyesight; high-backed chairs were new fashionable items of furniture but also kept the head up during the siesta. The focus on material culture can illuminate the ways in which the medical discourse intermingled with different sets of contemporary values.


My thesis maintains that Francis Bacon (1561�1626) initiated, or tried to initiate, a modern science of human aging. Since the work of Gerald Gruman, Bacon�s contribution to biogerontology has been dismissed as derivative. I argue that it was revolutionary. Examining both The History of Life and Death and De Augmentis (1623), I demonstrate that Bacon�s surprising assertion that he is the first to acknowledge the prolongation of life as an aim of medicine reveals the first novelty of his approach: senescence is a complex process inadequately understood, yet capable of remediation. The second novelty is his hypothesis that senescence does not involve a vital substance, as Gruman and other scholars understand the idea. Deadening even �vital spirits,� Bacon�s theory casts senescence as a collection of intricately twined operations among miniscule, inanimate bodies, as historians expect modern biogerontology to do.

MARILYN NICOUD, �COLE FRAN�AISE DE ROME Self-Portait of Doctors: Uses of Rhetoric in Medical Letters

Nel Quattrocento, alla corte dei Visconti e degli Sforza, furono stipendiati numerosi medici, I quali hanno lasciato una corrispondenza in cui descrivevano al principe le cure impartite ai membri della famiglia. Attraverso il resoconto dettagliato del progresso della malattia, si pu� leggere un processo di costruzione della loro identit� professionale. All�interno di un milieu caratterizzato da forti pressioni, fondamentale era per il medico giustificare al meglio lo stato del suo paziente e le sue decisioni. Attraverso una selezione dei fatti da raccontare, una descrizione delle discussioni svolte e un uso accurato della retorica, le lettere collettive rivelano lo sforzo di fare coincidere le esigenze di comunicazione con la necessit� di legittimare azioni del medico. Nel novero delle notizie che circolavano a corte, le lettere scritte dai medici delineano i principi di un auto-ritratto dietro il quale si percepisce la coerenza di una professione.

FABIOLA ZURLINI, UNIVERSIT� DEGLI STUDI DI MACERATA The Correspondence between the Personal Physician of the Queen Christina of Sweden Cesare Macchiati and the Cardinal Decio Azzolino Junior in the Seventeenth Century

The aim of the paper is to underline the main features of the correspondence between Cesare Macchiati, the personal physician of the Queen Christina of Sweden, and the cardinal Decio Azzolino junior, the tutor of the Queen in the Roman court. The paper studied the correspondence referred to the Queen�s travel through Germany to Sweden between August 1666 and July 1668. The research examines the serial of letters that is kept in the National Arkive of Stockhom and the other part that is included in Azzolino�s collection still kept in the Planettiana Public Library at Jesi in the Marche region. The collection of the letters offers a unique example of medical correspondence full of details about the typical method of description of diseases and therapies in the Seventeenth century and it represents an important source of reconstruction of the international historical and medical context of the Queen�s court too.

ELISA ANDRETTA, EUROPEAN UNIVERSITY INSTITUTE The Madness of the Cardinal: Medical Consilia on the Last Disease of Bernardino Salviati(1508�1568)

This paper looks at a very particular kind of medical letters, the Consilia, describing the last illness and death of the Cardinal Bernardino Salviati. They are written by different physicians (including his personal doctor Alessandro Petroni, as well as the famous professor Francesco Frigimelica and other anonymous doctors). This kind of narrative, frequently exchanged between doctors, was used as a major reference source for the diagnosis and determination of appropriate treatment of specific illnesses. For historians, these letters could be a good starting point in order to analyze the construction of networks and the form of scientific communication that took place within the medical community in the Roman context. In particular, they offer very interesting insight to the variety of medical approaches and practices applied to the specific disease of the Cardinal, defined by one of the authors as insania.

HIRO HIRAI, CHEMICAL HERITAGE FOUNDATION Medicine and Astrology in Antoine Mizauld�s Conversation between Asclepius and Urania

The famous French physician Jean Fernel�s (1497�1558) disciple, Antoine Mizauld (ca. 1512�1578), was a figure very little exploited by scholars. In his medico-philosophical dialogue between Asclepius and Urania, Aesculapii et Uraniae medicum et astronomicum ex colloquio conjugium harmoniam microcosmi cum macromosmo (Lyon, 1550), he developed a theoretical basis for his astrological medicine. Mizauld published its second revised edition as Harmonia coelestium corporum et humanorum (Paris, 1555), which was then translated as Harmonie des corps c�lestes et humains (Lyon, 1580), ensuring a wider diffusion of his ideas. The present paper aims to examine its contents especially around the notion of the life-giving cosmic heat.

LOUISE WILSON, UNIVERSIT� DE GEN�VE Salutary Tales: Reading as Medicine in Early Modern England

My paper addresses the use of discourses on health and the body in constructions of reading in English humanist writing. Such examples figure the consumption of suitable texts as nourishing or medicinal and cast the act of reading as a health-giving physiological as well as mentalprocess; by the same token, analogies are drawn between popular modes of reading, malnourishment and infection. After Seneca�s �Letter 84�, which advocates gathering matter from texts as the bee collects honey, and digesting this matter as the body digests food, parallels between the medicinal or nourishing qualities of foodstuffs and the effects which good reading has on the body are iterated in humanist texts. Discussing early modern discourses on the body and medicine alongisde treatises on reading and examples from literature, I argue that these inform humanist constructions of readerly profit and delight and render the reading subject in distinctly corporeal terms.

LUCIA DACOME, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO Santorio and the Scale: Images, Instruments and the Fortunes of a Venetian Physician

This paper reconstructs the historical fortune of an image that throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries became a landmark of the doctrine of static medicine, which was originally elaborated by the physician Santorio Santorio (1561�1636). The image depicted a man weighing himself on a scale that measured changes in insensible perspiration, an imperceptible excretion of the skin that was considered to be of critical importance for the pursuit of health. Well into the eighteenth century, the image of the weight-watching man underwent a great success. It appeared in a variety of medical works, navigated across competing medical theories and different medical genres (such as the commentary, the aphorism and the experimental report), and survived harsh debates on competing models of the body (such as the mechanical versus the humoral). This paper will examine the success and the historical age

LORENZA GIANFRANCESCO, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON, ROYAL HOLLOWAY COLLEGE The World of Academies: An Account of Intellectual Debate, Courtly Life and Celebrations in Early Modern Naples

Between the 1570s and 1620s Naples became an internationally leading center of learning with a vibrant intellectual milieu. Academies played a vital role in enhancing the scholarly debate on arts and science, often functioning as spaces within which both patronage and courtly life lavishly expressed their pervasive power. Academic gatherings took place in carefully chosen venues such as monasteries, palaces and churches, all of which also functioned as a public display for social status and political power. Academic debates embraced a variety of disciplines which included literature, language, philosophy, and scientific research in the fields of medicine, physiognomy, anatomy, alchemy and the like. Within this intellectually active milieu, courtly entertainment also played a crucial role and took place in a variety of privately and publicly acted performances which included staged plays, scientific experimentation and public celebrations. By looking at some primary sources, this paper will attempt to answer the following questions:What was the role of academies, academicians and patrons in shaping the image of early modern Naples? What roles academicians were expected to carry out? Where were the boundaries between freedom of expression and propaganda?

CECILIA MAIER-KAPOOR, THE JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY Medicine, Philosophy, and Platonic Love: Ficino� Syncretistic Discourse of Love in De Amore

This paper examines the medico-philosophical discourse in Ficino�s theory of love as espoused in his love treatise, De amore. Known by most scholars as the seminal text of Renaissance lovetheory, the work has traditionally been noted for its Platonic focus on love as desire for ideal beauty. However, there is an inherent problematic aspect to the notion of Platonic eros: contemplation of physical beauty can lead to spiritual ennoblement of the soul. Still, the same mental activity or cogitatio immoderata can precipitate a melancholic pathology. In order therefore to straddle the porous boundaries of corporeal and incorporeal, Ficino, as I will show, used a conceptual language that due to its medico-philosophical nature bridged the ontological gulf between physical and metaphysical. For to Ficino, as a premodern thinker, there was no split between body and soul.

MONTSERRAT CABR� and FERNANDO SALM�N, UNIVERSIDAD DE CANTABRIA Madness, Breastfeeding and the Nature of Women in Renaissance Medicine

Drawing from ancient and medieval traditions, by the end of the fifteenth century academic medicine in the Latin West had fully developed a notion of the female body as venomous and prone to cause illness to others. Central to this conception was menstrual blood, understood as the result of women�s failure to refine blood into semen and as the cleansing process that female bodies underwent to purge from excess substances regularly during certain life stages. In this paper we will discuss not only how women�s bodies were conceptualized as potentiallyvenomous for others but also how they could be harmful to themselves. The physiological connection between female madness and the impossibility of breastfeeding will be explained within this framework. We will explore how Renaissance medicine approached these issues in original academic works and in contemporary commentaries of the Articella �the core of the medical teaching syllabus.NB: Cabre and Salmon will present their paper together.


The olfactory function is still today an open chapter in physiology. Aristoteles defined the nose as the organ of smelling and breathing and was convinced that the nostrils were �double� in their shape as well as other sensitive organs (ears, eyes and tongue) because predisposed to absolve two functions: breathing and smelling (De part. anim 656b33�657a11). Galen did not agree with the philosophus and localised the smelling faculty in the brain, provoking discussions that kept physicians occupied in the middle ages and the Renaissance (De instr. odorat.). While natural philosophers and anatomists agreed about the fact that the nose has breathing and purging functions, they diverged with regard to some key questions: is the nose as a sensory organ responsible for smell? Does injury to or the destruction of the nose damage an important function? If the nose is not the organ of smell, is decoration of the face its only function? The debate took on a new ethical and aesthetic depth with the diffusion of rhinoplasty in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

REMI CHIU, MCGILL UNIVERSITY Music to Heal the Sick: Motet in the Time of Pestilence

This paper examines a set of motets for St. Sebastian composed around 1500 (by Martini, Gaspar van Weerbeke, and Willaert). Their texts specifically invoke Sebastian�s powers as a plague saint and seek his aid against pestilence and other illnesses. I will explore the ways in which the juxtaposition of music and text in these motets shapes the meanings of the works, and then I will look at their functions. Taking into account Renaissance ideas regarding the inherence of music within the body, the healing properties of melody, the relationship between medicine and religion, and the contemporary aetiology of the plague, I argue that these devotional motets lie at the discursive juncture between natural and spiritual healing. If the plague had both natural (miasma) and religious-moral (sin, excess) causes, then motets to St. Sebastian potentially offered a double dose of medicine for both the body and the soul.

SHEILA CAROL BARKER, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF ROME Theories of the Gendered Response to Plague in the Art and Medicine of Early Modern Italy

My paper�s point of departure will be the historical association between plague mortality and the gendered imagination as a means of explaining why young women who did not contract the plague through contagion nonetheless died of plague. Specifically, the paper will propose how the concern for the susceptibility of the feminine imagination may have impacted the themes and styles of art intended for a female viewership, particularly during times of plague. I argue that the preventative strategies based on the inoculation paradigm (or to use a more historically appropriate term, mithridatism) were intended, most likely, for a male public. By the same token, I will demonstrate that preventative plague medicine for a female public sprang from a paradigm of analeptic and anodyne therapies, and the art that complemented this paradigm was meant to comfort and delight its viewership. This paper introduces a substantially different perspective on the problem by arguing for a gendered distinction between both the medicine and the art used to counteract the danger of plague in seventeenth-century Italy.

Elaine Leong Reading Medicine: Readers and Vernacular Medical Texts in Early Modern England

From plague tracts to recipe collections to compendia of physicians� case histories, English men and women were offered an array of titles by early modern printers and publishers. Past research upon vernacular medical books has mainly focused on production, however, as William Sherman has argued, books concerning health and medicine were consistently �marked up� by readers. Based on a survey of the genre in the Folger and the Huntington Libraries, this paper intends to address the consumption and reception of these texts. I argue that investigations of early modern reading habits and practices can offer historians insight into household medical activities and processes of knowledge production. Readers asserted their interests through a range of ownership notes, marginal crosses, symbols, signs, headings, and underlinings. Examination ofindividual annotations reveals contemporary attitudes towards medical and scientific knowledge and uncovers the multi-step process used by home-based practitioners to assess and assimilate new ideas into their activities.

GLEN COOPER, BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY The Aldine Galen and the Sixteenth-Century Debates over the Validity of Astrological Medicine

Compared with other Aldine editions, the place of the Aldine Galen in sixteenth-century medicine is ambiguous. Although a landmark in classical scholarship, the availability of Galen in Greek does not seem to have had the immediate impact that its publishers hoped, except perhaps as a symbolic victory over the Avicennist tradition and its supposed Arabic corruptions of the Greek prisca medicina. For it seems that most physicians used instead Latin translations of the same. This paper examines the De diebus decretoriis and De crisibus, showing how their doctrines appeared in sixteenth-century medical discussions, and how those discussions were affected by the use of Latin rather than the Aldine Greek. In particular, medical astrology, the centralidea of the former treatise, which had been central to the medieval medical world view, was a hotly debated topic. Observations about the Aldine editors and their manuscript sources are also made.


Twenty-three complete editions of Galen were printed from 1490 to 1625. The rediscovery of Galen�s works in Greek since the end of the fifteenth century had an important influence on medicine, especially anatomy. From 1473 to the end of the sixteenth century, many Latin translations of Galen were made and printed in about 660 editions. A census has been provided by Richard Durling in 1961 (excluding the complete Latin editions; references to their content are only in the analytic index). The paper will give an overview of the complete editions (Latin and Greek). Research has focused on the introduction to the editions (explaining their contribution to the constitution and definition of the corpus Galenicum, the order of the works,and the philological work made for them); the prefaces and notes of commentary; a description of their contents; and several indices (translations, incipit, explicit, translators).

JUSTO HERN�NDEZ, UNIVERSITY OF LA LAGUNA The Commentaria in Librum aphorismorum Hippocratis (Venice, 1571) of Crist�bal de Vega: Medical Humanism and Renaissance Commonplaces

In this paper, the Latin version�s contents of the Aphorisms from the Corpus Hippocraticum, based on the original Greek texts, produced by the professor of medicine of the University of Alcal�, Crist�bal de Vega (1510�73), is studied and analyzed. This book was printed in Venice (1571) by the Italian Gratioso Perchacino. The examination of the only Venetian edition of this book has been very useful to point out the main characteristics of medical humanism � the reappraisal of the Hippocratic medicine, the medieval authorities� disdain and the practically complete rejection of the Arabic sources considered as barbarian � its Renaissance Latin style and, finally, its Renaissance commonplaces � the relevant and frequent references to classical Greek mythology among others. Moreover, Vega�s controversies with both classical and contemporary authors are also pointed out. In conclusion, the edition of this important book from the Venetian presses gives clear proof of the Latin humanist entourage of Venice.

SVELTANA HAUTALA, UNIVERSIT� DEGLI STUDI DI SIENA In Search of Authenticity: De antidotis of Galen in the Context of the Pharmacological Industry of Venice Republic

As is known during the Renaissance the ancient theriac described by Galen receives the name of �Venetian treacle,� the compound drug of more than sixty ingredients that was supposed to anticipate all ills. It became an important article of commerce for the Venetian republic, which controlled the most territories that in antiquity supplied the materia medica for producing the theriac. Venetian diplomats, merchants, and physicians were employed for looking for the plants and substances described in ancient texts, as well as the ancient manuscripts themselves. It is against this background of this large project that combined capitalism with the humanist focus on the classical sources that I intend to treat the publishing by Aldo Manuzio of De antidotis of Galen in 1525 in Venice.


The paper presents a fifteenth-century manuscript possibly from the Veneto, purchased in 1890 by the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma and containing the text of Giovanni Saracino, Receptario de Galieno translato de latino in volgare per lo excellente medico maistro Zohanne Saracino. Giovanni Saracino, a physician from Piemonte, devoted himself to circulating the Galenic receptary, which was very common, even in the printed editions until the seventeenth century. The manuscript is a further confirmation that the Galenic receptary has been translated from the ancient Greek into the vernacular, including in dialectals. It contains also a Latin text (incomplete at the end) attributed to Johannes Paulinius, who used to copy medical recipes found in local books from Alexandria in Egypt, and to translate them into Latin.

ALAIN TOUWAIDE, SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION Printing Greek Medicine in Renaissance Venice: Galen and Beyond

The paper will sum up the elements presented in the two sessions �Printing Greek Medicine in Venice in the Renaissance�; investigate the printed editions of others Greek medical treatises, from the Corpus Hippocraticum to Dioscorides and Nicander in order to complete the picture; and also suggest new avenues for further research.