Collegio Romano, Rome, Italy
Following preparatory studies, Lancisi took courses in philosophy at the Collegio Romano but soon realized that his real vocation lay in medicine and natural history.
La Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy
Lancisi abandoned theology and entered the Sapienza to study medicine. He graduated in 1672 at the age of eighteen - young even for those times.
Engraving of Giovanni Maria Lancisi.
Painting of Giovanni Maria Lancisi.
Engraving of Giovanni Maria Lancisi.
Portrait of Giovanni Maria Lancisi.
Drawing of Giovanni Maria Lancisi.
Bust of Giovanni Maria Lancisi.
German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, Halle, Germany
Lancisi was a member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina.
Royal Society, London, England
Lancisi was a member of the Royal Society.
Following preparatory studies, Lancisi took courses in philosophy at the Collegio Romano but soon realized that his real vocation lay in medicine and natural history. He, therefore, abandoned theology and entered the Sapienza to study medicine. He graduated in 1672 at the age of eighteen - young even for those times. After obtaining his degree, Lancisi continued to study medicine independently.
In 1675 Lancisi was appointed doctor at the Hospital of Santo Spirito; in 1678 he was nominated to membership in the Collegio del Salvatore; and in 1684 he was appointed a professor of anatomy at the Sapienza, where he taught for thirteen years. At the same time, Lancisi became increasingly eminent in the papal court. In 1688 Pope Innocent IX made him pontifical doctor - a post he was to fill, if not always officially, under succeeding popes - and delegated him, as a representative of Cardinal Altieri, to head the pontifical committee for conferring degrees in the medical college.
In 1706 Pope Clement XI asked Lancisi to examine a mysterious increase in the number of sudden deaths, which had assumed the proportions of an epidemic. The following year Lancisi responded by publishing De subitaneis mortibus, in which he dealt in a masterly manner with the problems of cardiac pathology; he extended his study of the subject in a second book, De motu cordis et aneurysmatibus, published in 1728. Lancisi demonstrated in his first book that sudden deaths were often due to hypertrophy and dilatation of the heart, and to various kinds of valve defects. In the later book on aneurysms, he showed many heart lesions to be syphilitic in nature and gave a good clinical description of syphilis of the heart.
Lancisi also did important research on malaria, which was epidemic in Rome to such an extent that those who could fled the city during the hot months. Drawing upon the work of Fracastoro, Lancisi pointed out that the fevers afflicting Rome and the surrounding countryside were closely related to the presence of swamps, which encouraged the multiplying of mosquitoes. By a brilliant intuition, Lancisi attributed the spread of the disease to these insects, and strongly advocated the draining of the swamps - unfortunately without success. He was more effective in bringing the controversial treatment of malaria by cinchona bark into common practice. He made other significant epidemiological studies on influenza and cattle plague (rinderpest).
Lancisi was also successful in persuading Pope Clement XI to acquire Eustachi’s anatomical tables, which had remained unpublished since the latter’s death. Lancisi had them printed at his own expense, together with a comprehensive summary. During his life, he himself collected a personal medical library of considerable size (over 20,000 volumes) and interest, which he generously donated to the Hospital of Santo Spirito to be used for the education of the doctors and surgeons of that hospital.
Lancisi was a member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the Royal Society.
Lancisi probably was married, but nothing is known about his own family.