Marcello Malpighi is a 17th century Italian biologist, botanist and physician from the University of Bologna. He was dubbed the "Father of embryology and plant anatomy" with key discoveries that bear his name. He was the son of landowners. He was born in Crevalcore, outside of Bologna in 1628, the year Harvey published his seminal work De Motu Cordis on the circulation of blood. He studied philosophy and later medicine in Bologna graduating in 1653. Throughout his career he taught at University of Bologna, Pisa, Messina and from 1659, again back at his alma mater. In 1691, three years before his death, Pope Innocent II appointed him Professor at University of Rome.
Malpighi took advantage of the microscope invented by the Dutch draper (and part-time janitor), Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1676). As a result, Malpighi establish the field of histology. Along the way he described structures both in humans and animals, many named after him. His illustrious career and important discoveries of the tactile receptors, pulmonary capillaries, red blood cells, not to mention plant anatomy and human embryology earned him an honorary membership in the Royal Society of London.
His book, Opera Omnia was published in 1686. The copy we possess is a second edition published in Lugduni Batavorum (Leiden, Holland) in 1687. It is a superb book with two volumes bound together. Volume one (162 pages) covers the anatomy of plants It has close to 80 superb engravings. It is a compilation of Malpighi’s previously published works on these subjects. The second volume (379 pages) contains studies of the silkworm, the embryonic development of the chick, microscopic studies of the optic nerve, the brain, the tongue (v2, p172), external tactile organs (v2, p199-210, structure of the liver, cerebral cortex, kidneys, the spleen, heart and most importantly, the lungs. This last section entitled "Exercitationes anatomicae de structura viscerum…pulmonibus" (v2, p320-331, Illustration p331, Table II, Fig 1-2)), contains his key anatomical investigations of the circulatory system and the discovery of the capillaries, that explained how blood circulated. William Harvey in 1628 described blood circulation without knowing the existence of capillaries. The study on the pulmonary capillaries were originally published in 1666 as De Viscerum Structura. Along the 871 pages, this superb and comprehensive volume is richly illustrated with 120 engraved plates, some of them folding.
Opera Omnia 1687 >>>
Cover page & exterior of Malpighi’s Opera Omnia