Materia medica at the grand-ducal court in 16th century Tuscany

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By | Early Medicine, Events and Visits

The next seminar in the 2015–16 History of Pre-Modern Medicine Seminar Series takes place on Tuesday 16 February.

Chemists and assistants operating distilling apparatus

Chemists and workers operating distilling apparatus in a laboratory. Engraving by P. Galle (?) (1537–1612) after J. van der Straet (1523–1605). Wellcome Library reference no. 26686i.


Dr Cristina Bellorini (Independent scholar, Milan)

Materia medica at the grand-ducal court in 16th century Tuscany


In Tuscany in the second half of the 16th century, the cultural context of the Medici court and the role played by Cosimo I and his sons Francesco I and Ferdinando I, who were personally interested in medicine and materia medica, led to a series of initiatives which greatly expanded the study of medicinal plants. The growing interest in this field is attested, among other things, by the establishment of a new chair of medical botany at the University of Pisa, and by the founding of a botanical garden where for the first time medical students could become familiar with the simples which were the basis of materia medica.

This new attention to the study of plants raises questions about their actual use in therapy and brings to the fore the question of the relationship between therapeutic theory and practice. In order to address these issues, this paper investigates the treatment of malarial fever, drawing a comparison between theoretical treatises, consilia and letters describing specific cases, and examines the account books of a Florentine apothecary in which the purchases of medicinal plants and drugs were registered on a daily basis. Some observations on the discrepancy between books and practice will form the conclusion.


Wellcome Collection Conference Centre, 183 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE.

(please note the change of location from previous seminars in this series)

Doors open at 6pm, seminar will start at 6.15pm.

The seminar series is focused on pre-modern medicine, which we take to cover European and non-European history before the 20th century (antiquity, medieval and early modern history, some elements of 19th century medicine).

Further details on the seminar series are available in a previous post.

Ross Macfarlane

Ross Macfarlane is the Research Engagement Officer at the Wellcome Library.

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