The Life of Bernardino Ramazzini

Bernardino Ramazzini was born in Carpi on October 4, 1633. He was the second of five brothers and his parents, Bartolomeo and Caterina Federzoni Ramazzini, were not a particularly wealthy couple.

From his family tree it can be seen that the founder, Francesco Caracci aka Franchini, would settle in Carpi in the late sixteenth century, during the reign of Ercole I d'Este (1471-1505), probably as a result of a reward for his services to the House of Este during or after the Italian expedition of Charles VIII of France. Subsequently, the name of Ramazzini would then be introduced as a nickname, but with some uncertainty as to its correct transliteration, even for the contemporary members of the famous Bernardino. Even though he appears as "Ramazzini" most of the time, both on his baptismal certificate and on those of his brothers (except for Antonio), and in his later documents from Modena and Padova, there existed alternative forms, such as "Ramacini" and "Ramaccini".

Ramazzini Bartolomeo, a physician close to his uncle for professional reasons rather than for family ties, should be considered in all respects the first biographer of Ramazzini (Ramazzini, Bart., 1716). Bartolomeo married his second wife, the sister of Ludovico Antonio Muratori (1672-1750).

After the completion of other important biographies (Zorzi 1717, Tiraboschi, 1783; Maggiora, 1902; Koelsch, 1912; Maggiora, 1918; Maggiora 1933), Pericles Peter investigated and established, on several occasions, most of Ramazzini’s biographical issues. These were long-standing uncertainties, the result of documents handed down with incomplete or inaccurate information (Di Pietro, 1964, Di Pietro, 1977, Di Pietro, 1983, Di Pietro, 1999).

Ramazzini’s early studies took place with the Jesuits of his town, after which time he moved, at the age of nineteen, to Parma, not to Ferrara, at that time under the influence of the Papal state, as was the previous custom for those who lived under the Este. In Parma, then ruled by the Farnese Duchy, he earned a degree in philosophy and medicine on February 21, 1659. We do not really know the reasons of his choice; the fact is that Ramazzini decided to learn practical medicine in Rome, following the activities and teachings of Antonio Maria de' Rossi (1588-1671), son of the historian and chief physician of Pope Clement VIII. De’ Rossi was a highly valued doctor and professor at that time at “La Sapienza,” with a history as head doctor in Ravenna. On de' Rossi’s advice, Bernardino moved from Rome to the Duchy of Castro in Viterbo with the role of doctor, and where he stayed until April 1663, when he contracted malaria, which was raging in the region. He then handed in his resignation and went back to Carpi. There is little evidence that attests to his life in Viterbo even though Ramazzini spent a long time in this city. Biographers have presented different hypotheses about his experience: Ramazzini learned practical medicine, he carried out his work for the poor and the needy in rural areas, and gained a great deal of experience, during which time he became aware of how the precise living and environmental conditions affected one's health. He moved from the Duchy of Castro temporarily at first on August 13, 1662, and then permanently from June 1663. We can imagine that his work was greatly appreciated by the citizens of that region, so much so as to weigh like a sword of Damocles over his successor, Rubbini Bolsena, whose services were finally accepted only after a year, and even then with many misgivings (Riccò, 2005).

After his experience in the Papal state and his return to Carpi, Ramazzini was married on February 13, 1665 to compatriot Francesca Guatoli. The couple had four children, two of whom (boys) died in infancy. The eldest daughter had no children, but Ramazzini became a grandfather thanks to his daughter Gismonda. Three of his grandsons settled in Padua with their grandfather and helped him in the last years of his life, working as readers and scribes. During his period in Carpi he spent his time propitiously by practicing his profession and participating actively in the cultural life of the city, according to the inscription at the Academy of the Distinguished of Carpi in 1668.

At the end of 1676, Bernardino moved with his family to Modena where the reconstruction of the glorious “Studio Pubblico di San Carlo” had just begun. Ramazzini surrounded himself with a growing reputation as a clinician and researcher and subsequently started to be appreciated at the Court of Duke Francesco II d'Este. At the age of forty-nine, he was given the only chair as professor of medicine of the rebuilt Studio and was also given the honor of reading the inaugural prayer on November 5, 1682. In parallel with the Studio, the Accademia Ducale dei Dissonanti was started in Modena in 1683 with our doctor as a founding member. In the academic year 1685-1686 a second chair of medicine was established and headed by Francesco Torti (1658-1741). The two professorships, one in Theoretical Medicine and the other in Practical Medicine, saw the two teachers exchanging roles without any precise rule. Physiology and hygiene subjects figured into Torti’s classes while in Ramazzini’s course of 1690-1691, workers’ diseases were dealt with. In 1691 Ramazzini and Torti, friends as well as later opponents on the judgment for treatment with cinchona bark, received the honorary appointments of "Doctors of the Court ". Among other duties, this involved entertaining Francesco II for an hour before dinner, "to talk and converse, with virtuous lectures and reasoning on literary things", and professional services, such as "taking the pulse", were included after the conversation and before dinner (Di Pietro, 1983), even though another doctor, Abbati Antonio, was regularly "on the payroll" at the Ducal Administration, and was paid for treating the personages of the court. In this period in Modena, scientific production became a means to approach Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), whom Ramazzini met at the end of 1689. The two established a friendship that lasted over time, as evidenced by an exchange of letters from 1690 to 1704 (Di Pietro, 1964, Di Pietro, 1965). The German Accademia Cesareo-Leopoldina dei Curiosi della Natura received him among its members, with the name of Hippocrates III, by sending him its relative diploma on November 18, 1693. An important role in promoting relationships between Ramazzini and various personalities from the world of science and culture of his time was assigned to Magliabechi Antonio (1633-1714), an influential scholar and librarian for the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The exchange of letters between them was frequent and the letters of the former, kept at the National Central Library of Florence, were studied by Pericle di Pietro (Di Pietro, 1964). Among the other correspondents of Ramazzini’s we find Marcello Malpighi (1628-1694), Giovanni Maria Lancisi (1654-1720), Ludovico Antonio Muratori, Giovanni Ascani. Ramazzini socialized with Giovanni Cinelli as well (1625-1706), a restless Florentine physician and scholar who supported him in one of his controversies. According to Di Pietro, despite the inevitable disputes, Ramazzini was blessed with an even disposition and sound religious values; he wished to let everybody know he was a follower of ecclesiastical rules and interests, even becoming a doctor in some religious convents. He was also responsible for certain situations, determined by the Church to be in contrast with the most advanced medical knowledge and hygiene, as in the case of the abolition of public baths based on moral motivation, as well as the burial of the dead in churches.In one of his letters he made the following statement: "Blessed Nowadays, at least in this world, who knows so well how to pretend; I shall always be unhappy for myself because I have never been able to learn such an art" (Di Pietro, 1964). In 1699, a letter addressed to Magliabechi clearly expressed his scientific and cultural leanings: "I will appreciate it if he tells me what he thinks about Galileo, splendor of such sublime City, as Borelli as well, authors, to me, so estimated. Among the literati, it is worth mentioning Baccone and Harveo, discoverer of the circular motion of the blood; among the philosophers Gassendi and Descartes; among the Tuscan poets Marino, Tassone, and Deleman." (Di Pietro, 1964). The Carpi showed that he was also a keen observer of important events from a cultural and social point of view (Turchi, 2002), here, for example, the story he told his nephew Bartolomeo in a letter dated May 12, 1713 by Public Maggiora " Here ... runs a bad bad season, rainy with no hint of spring and therefore people will make public prayers. The poor peasants are starving, and most cannot sow the wheat, which is L. 52 and 62 a bushel. A beautiful event has occurred in Este. A farmer went out to find some rich man called Gentilini, he begged and implored him to give him some free wheat because he and his family were starving. The rich man refused him and the desperate farmer went home, took his musket and went to where he knew Gentilini would be. When the farmer arrived with musket in hand, he told him to stop and give him his money. The lord handed over a bag with 19 gold pieces and the villain took one gold coin out and gave the remaining coins back to the lord. Then the farmer went to see the priest and told him about the incident. After expressing admiration for his generous gesture, the priest gave him another gold piece and promised to go and find Gentilini so that he would not have him arrested. Both of them decided to find Gentilini, who gave them his word and then gave the priest another gold piece to donate to the farmer, and so goes the story ... "(Maggiora, 1902).

The "promotion" at the University of Padua, long sought by Ramazzini, was achieved in the first days of November, 1700, the same year that the first edition of “Diseases of workers” was published. The real reasons and implications of this step are not clearly known. We can assume that Ramazzini aspired to the chair of Padua because it was the most famous university, and because the economic and political situation had changed greatly in Modena. In a letter of 1704 addressed to Leibniz, he says that his country was very different from the one he had left and that Leibniz had known. In a document dated August 26, 1700, the Venetian Senate told Ramazzini of the appointment to "lecturer at the University of Padua for the chair of Practical Medicine as second full professor." In the first months of 1699 at Padua University the second chair of practical medicine had become vacant and reformers had received information on various professors. In making the official announcement, the Senate gave praise for the newly elected: they collected "full and substantiated reports that Dr. Bernardino da Modena Ramacini is graced with the most desirable requirements of virtue and doctrine, and his scholarly works are witness to his consummate experience owing to his great age and to the difficult practice of the Art of Medicine and Maths which he possesses…" (Di Pietro, 1983, Di Pietro, 1999). We know about his move thanks to Ludovico Antonio Muratori in a letter dated November 13, 1700 addressed to Magliabechi "our Dr. Ramazzini is happily arrived in Venice and Padua and it should be made known, at this time, his knowledge of the medical chair. Here your book is very expensive; some other Hippocratic may not comfort himself with your example, in order to save his greed for selling books…” (Muratori, 1854). On December 12, 1700 after a month of acclimatization and after taking several classes, Ramazzini made his "solemn entry" by pronouncing the Oratio secularis. From this moment onward the lessons of the master were judged very favorably by academic authorities, who wrote him praise, and on August 25, 1708, the Chair was confirmed once again in spite of his fear of losing it because of his advancing age (74.) In March 1709 he was appointed the first chair as Professor of Practical Medicine, which had become vacant, and Ramazzini was confirmed four years later in 1713 at the age of eighty. In this period the awards earned by Ramazzini were endless: in 1704 he was counted among the Arcadians along with the name of the Academic Licoro Langiano; in 1707 Ramazzini became a member of Societas Regia of Sciences in Berlin on the proposal of its President Leibniz in 1708 and "as an act of public kindness,” he was allowed to enter the College of Physicians and Philosophers between 1708 and 1711, and he was appointed Chairman of the Board of the Artists. The Paduan period is dotted with many scientific papers, new, original, expanded and revised, making him increasingly better known in the scientific community (Shryock, 1977).

As a result of his professional activity, rather than from the proceeds of his books, Ramazzini attained a certain economic stature which allowed him to invest in properties in the countryside of Modena, where he spent his summer holidays. He often wrote in his letters to his nephew Bartolomeo, his editor, in worried tones about their low income. After his time in the Duchy of Castro, Ramazzini’s health was good, but in 1703, after the first years in Padua, he began to suffer from a "palpitation of the heart," which he attributed to the climate change, to his diet and drinking habits, and to his sedentary lifestyle in Padua. His condition was also referred to as a state of "reactive" depression, which induced him to resort to "a spiritual remedy" (Di Pietro, 1999). In 1705 the first disturbances with his eyesight appeared which worsened in the following years finally leading to blindness.

In the last years of his life, Ramazzini was affected by circulatory problems in the brain which caused him to suffer from various ailments "certified" by Giovanni Battista Morgagni (1682-1771), his doctor and colleague at the University. Morgagni diagnosed bleeding on the brain, which invaded the ventricles. After twelve hours of agony Ramazzini died on November 5, 1714, a day that Ramazzini would have gone, as usual, to the Studio to hold his lesson. He was buried not far from his home in Padua, in the Church of the Blessed Elena Enselmini in Ognissanti, the street that now bears the name of Giovanni Battista Belzoni (Terribile Wiel Marin and Rippa Benati, 2001). Although there is no consensus as to the exact location of the burial site, it is believed that the remains of Ramazzini are in the crypt in front of the presbytery of the Church. There, an inscription dedicated by Bartolomeo Ramazzini, was for years only legible below the biography; it does not appear to have been engraved on marble by the executor, his grandson Francesco Medici, but rather made by the University of Padua on the occasion of the third centenary of his birth. Since 1933, on the side wall of the church of the Beata Elena in via Belzoni, in Padua you can read:




















The celebration of the three- hundredth anniversary of the publication of De Morbis was an opportunity to search for the burial place of Ramazzini that led to the identification of the crypt where his remains were thought to be buried. On June 5, 2002, in the Church of the Beata Elena in Padua, the identification of the body took place and it was decided to remove the marble slab above the crypt which houses the remains, and to collect the remains and its contents. It was also decided to carry on with any relevant research. (Franco,2002).

Taken from "Bernardino Ramazzini Works Medical and Physiological" by Franco Carnevale, Mary Mendini, Gianni Moriani, CIERRE Editions.

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