Matteo Realdo Colombo
Italian anatomist and discoverer of the pulmonary circulation (1516-1559)
Colombo, MATTEO REALDO, Italian anatomist and discoverer of the pulmonary circulation, b. at Cremona in 1516; d. at Rome, 1559. He studied medicine at Padua with Vesalius, became his assistant, and in 1544 his successor as lecturer on surgery and anatomy. In 1545 Cosimo de’ Medici, who was reorganizing the University of Pisa, held out such inducements to Colombo that he became the first professor of anatomy there. Colombo occupied this post until 1548, when he received a call to the chair of anatomy in the Papal University at Rome. This he held until his death. During all his years of teaching at Padua, Pisa, and Rome, he continued to make original researches in anatomy. The results of his investigation were published under the title, “De Re Anatomica Libri XV” (Venice, 1559). The most important feature of this book is an accurate and complete description of the pulmonary circulation. Colombo says: “The blood is carried by the artery-like vein to the lungs, and being there made thin is brought back thence together with air by the vein-like artery to the left ventricle of the heart.” Colombo knew that this was an original observation, for he adds: “This fact no one has hitherto observed or recorded in writing; yet, it may be most readily observed by any one.” Harvey, in his work, “On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals”, quotes Colombo more than once and gives him credit for many original observations in anatomy. Apparently lest there should be any diminution of Harvey’s glory, English writers on the history of medicine have, as a rule, failed to give Colombo the credit which he deserves and which Harvey so readily accorded him. Colombo made as many as fourteen dissections in one year at Rome. Several hundred people sometimes attended his anatomical demonstrations, and cardinals, archbishops, and other high ecclesiastics were often present. Colombo is famous as a teacher of anatomy and physiology, and first used living animals to demonstrate various functions, especially the movements of the heart and lungs. He said one could learn more in an hour in this way than in three months from Galen. His book was dedicated to Pope Paul IV, of whom he was an intimate personal friend.
JAMES J. WALSH