Giovanni Filipo  INGRASSIA 1510-1580.

© 1994-2011 Ole Daniel Enersen.

 Italian physican and anatomist ; born ca 1510, Regalbuto, near Palermo , Sicily ; Died Novemer 6th, 1580, Palermo .

 GIOVANNI FILIPPO INGRASSIA was called the Sicilian Hippocrates. Nothing appears to be known with certainy about Ingrassia’s family and of his early education we know only that he first studied medicine in Palermo with GIOVANNI BATTISTA DI PIETRA. Attracted by the fame of the medical faculty of the Univerrsity of Padua, he went there to continue his studies, attending classes of Hierunymus Fabrizio ab ACQUAPENDENTE (1537-1619), Bartolomeu EUSTACHI (1510-1574) and Andreas VESALIUS (1514-1564), with whom he was particulary close. He received the M.D. degree in 1537.

 From NAPLES to Palermo .

Thereafter his activities are obscure until 1544, when he was invited to the chair of practical and theoretical medicine, as well as of anatomy, at the University of Naples . To Ingrassia this was a successful time, he was celebrated teacher of anatomy and medicine, attracting large audiences of students, many of them from abroad.

 In 1556, on the recommendation of the Spanish viceroy of Sicily and by decree of Philip II of Spain , he was called to Palermo as archiater –Protomedico generale- promedicus. In 1563 Philip II made him chief physican to Sicily and neighbouring islands.


Little is known likewise of Ingrassia’s medical practice in Palermo except for his celebrated case involving Giovanni d’Arragona, marquis of Terranova. During the spring of 1562, the duke suffered a penetrating wound of the left chest during a tourment. Under the care of Ingrassia, he failed to respond to trearment and developed a fistula with epyema. Ingrassia circularized the leading physicians of Europa for suggestions and ultimately elicited, in 1562, Vesallius remarkable description of his surgical procedure for treatment of empyema. Vesalius long letter of advise – consilium pro fistula- dated from Madrid, Chistmas 1562, gives in detail steps in the procedure, using surgical drainage instead of the usualcauterization. Ingrassia acknowledged the advice in the following year but declared that he found it unnecessary to employ since the marquis has finally recovered. Nevertheleess he published Vesalius’s description of his procedure in Quaestio de purgation per medicammentum (1568, p. 92-98), as he declared, for the sake of posterity.

 A PIONEER in legal medicine and hygiene. As protomedicus, Ingrassia was concerned for the most part with problems of hygiene, epidemiology, and the general administration of Sicilian medicine. His activities included efforts to suppress quackery, to control the pharmaceuticaltrade , and inmprove the condition in hospitals. He was able with some success to control the endemic malaria of Palermo through drainage of marshes, and his greater use of isolation hospitals (lazzaretti) was instrumental in decreasing the severty of the epidemics of plague of 1575 and 1577. He called the founder  of legal medicine, which in his case nincluded issues such as the validity of testimony taken under torture. He also contributed to vetinary medicine.

 It was Ingrassia’s belief that there ought to be three kinds of hospitals: for those suspected to be infected, for the infected and for the convalescent. The whole subject of plague and infection was discussed, with other matters of public health, in his Informazione del pestifero morbo (1576). Ingrassia was responsible for the establishment of one of the first sanitary codes and a counsil of public health. He was also a founder of the study of legal medicine, for which he composed his Methodus dandi relations (1578); Owing to his dead two years later, the book was not published until 1914.


Ingrassia is best known for his anatomical studies, admittedly based upon the methods and procedures of Veesalius, for whom he expressed his greatest  admiration. These nstudies were for the most part the result of his period of teaching anatomy at Naples, but were only published posthumously under the title of : IN GAlENUM LIBRUM DE OSSIBUS DOCTISSIMA COMMENTARIA (Palermo 1603)*   

Because of the long delay in publication of the book, whatever claims he may have had to certain discoveries were pre-empted by other scientist whose findings were printed during the second half of the sixteenth century.  

Ingrassia must nevertheless be recocgnized as having investgated and described the sutures of the skull in minute detail. He provided a precise description of the sphenoid bone and its sinues, as well as of the ethmoid. He displayed an excellent knowledge of the bony structure of the auditory ossicle or stapes, actually calling it stapha because of its resemblance in shape to the stirrup commonly used in Sicily . Since his account of the ossicle did not appear in print until 1603, priority of published description must be awarded to the Spanish anatomists Pedro Jimeno (1515-1577) and Luis Callado, in 1549 and 1555, respectively.  

Ingrassia is generally considered a founder of osteology. He discovered the stapes in 1546, and the lesser wings of the sphenoid are still called the processes of Ingrassia. He was the first to separate between chicken pox and scarlet fever, making the first description of both. His description of scarlet fever was based on an epidemic in Palermo in 1564.

 Upon his death in 1580 Ingrassia left a teatise in which considered the possibility of sound wave conduction through the teeth. He is remembered for distinguishing between chicken pox and scarlet fever.

 Ingrassia was entombed in the chapel of Santa Barbara in Palermo .

 *(Go to www.vanbritsom.com : full text of said book and   MATTEO DONIA  as (co) anatomist and  engraver of said book).

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