History

The centre was first established in 2018 as an institution devoted to the medical humanities and the history of science.

The proposal to create a research centre with an international profile followed the success of the first international conference on Santorio Santori (1561-1636), organised the previous year by Fabrizio Bigotti and Jonathan Barry at the Domus Comeliana, with funding from both the Wellcome Trust and the Institutio Santoriana Fondazione Comel as well as other international sponsors.

Talks between the host institution and the future director eventually led to the instalment of the «Centre for the Study of Medicine and the Body in the Renaissance (CSMBR)», which was granted from the beginning a generous budget and a prestigious location.

The name of the centre reflects and embodies the mission entrusted by Marcello Comel, founder of the Institutio Santoriana – Fondazione Comel, which is to carry on Santorio’s scientific legacy and the principles of Medical Humanism.

Did you know it?

In only a few years, the CSMBR has attracted  international attention and is currently recognised as the major Italian institution in the medical humanities.

The Institutio Santoriana Fondazione Comel

The vision of the Institutio Santoriana was laid down by the Italian dermatopathologist and physiologist Marcello Comel  (1902-1996).

Born to a Friulan Family, Comel grew up to be one of the most important names in Italian medicine, as he established the study of dermatology well beyond the borders of his motherland.

Wide-ranging in his scientific interests and polyglot, Comel collected a rich library which he named “Biblioteca Santoriana” after Santorio Santori, the physician who had laid the ground for the physiological study of metabolism and whom he felt close because of their common ideals and descent (Santorio’s father being from Friuli). 

In keeping with Hippocrates and Santorio, Comel taught his pupils the importance of conceiving the human being as a physical and organic unity, in what he envisaged as the basis of a new Medical Humanism.

Reflecting these interests, Comel drew up the constitution for an Institutum Santorianum de Humanitate as early as 1943 but it was only years later (1981) that he put down his vision of Medical Humanism, with the publication of the book, L’uomo nel suo ambiente (“Man in his environment”).

In it, Comel shows himself to be an early proponent of the integration of humanism and ecology so that

the respect of the environment is regarded as a precondition for the full development of human potential.

Comel drew the lines for the creation of the Institutio Santoriana Fondazione Comel in 1992, which today keeps carrying on his vision and values by sponsoring the activities of the CSMBR.

Santorio: The Father of Experimental Physiology

Santorio Santori, known also as Santorio, Sanctorius or De’ Sanctoriis, was the Venetian physician, philosopher and inventor who introduced the quantitative method to medicine and biology. He is universally recognized as the father of modern experimental physiology.

Santorio’s place in the history of science and medicine rests primarily on his contribution to the development of the experimental method.

Most notably, his merits lie in the elaboration of an early form of corpuscularianism, and above all in the invention of precision instruments meant to ascertain the homeostatic balance of the body, especially with regards to pulse frequency, temperature, and insensible perspiration. These factors were indeed measured with special instruments called pulsilogia, with thermometers (hydrolabia Sanctorii) and by means of a weighing chair, also called sella Sanctorii.

By means of his works, Santorio established the principle that physical transformations are necessarily associated with quantitative parameters, and that physicians’ subjective appreciation of the individual conditions of their patients is deceptive if not mediated by the use of precision instruments.

For these reasons, Santorio has often been considered one of the founding fathers of iatromechanism and his contributions to medicine have been considered of comparable standing to those of William Harvey and opened the path to the modern multivariate analysis.

An insight into Santorio’s humanity comes from his final will, wherein he bequeathed to his heirs a substantial amount of money to erect a college to study medicine. He meant it to be open also to poor students.

The CSMBR continues Santorio’s legacy and has instituted a series of grants named after him which aim at encouraging the study of his life, theories and experiments.