12 March 2018

Pietro Andrea Mattioli – doctor

The first botanist to describe the tomato

As a physician, Pietro Andrea Mattioli described the first documented case of cat allergy
As a physician, Pietro Andrea Mattioli described the
first documented case of cat allergy
Doctor and naturalist Pietro Andrea Gregorio Mattioli was born on this day in 1501 in Siena.

As the author of an illustrated work on botany, Mattioli provided the first documented example of an early variety of tomato that was being grown and eaten in Europe.

He is also believed to have described the first case of cat allergy, when one of his patients was so sensitive to cats that if he went into a room where there was a cat he would react with agitation, sweating and pallor.

Mattioli received his medical degree at the University of Padua in 1523 and practised his profession in Siena, Rome, Trento and Gorizia.

He became the personal physician to Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria, in Prague and to Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, in Vienna.

While working for the imperial court it is believed he tested the effects of poisonous plants on prisoners, which was a common practice at the time.

Mattioli's book about the work of  Greek physician Dioscorides
Mattioli's book about the work of
Greek physician Dioscorides
Mattioli’s interest in botany led him to describe 100 new plants and document the medical botany of his time in his Discorsi (Commentaries) on the Materia Medica of Dioscorides, a Greek physician and botanist. Dioscorides had written a five-volume encyclopaedia about herbal medicine and other medicinal substances that had been widely read for 1,500 years.

The first edition of Mattioli’s work appeared in 1544 in Italian. There were several later editions and translations into Latin, French, Czech and German.

He added descriptions of plants not in the original work and not of any known medical use. The woodcuts in Mattioli’s work were of a high standard, helping the reader to identify the plants.

The Scottish botanist Robert Brown later named a plant genus Matthiola in his honour.

Mattioli died in 1577 during a visit to Trento, now the capital city of Trentino-Alto Adige.

Siena's Piazza del Campo viewed from the air
Siena's Piazza del Campo viewed from the air
Travel tip:

Mattioli’s birthplace, Siena, is famous for its shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, where the Palio di Siena takes place twice each year. It was established in the 13th century as an open marketplace and is now regarded as one of the finest medieval squares in Europe. The red brick paving, fanning out from the centre in nine sections, was put down in 1349. The city’s Duomo was designed and completed between 1215 and 1263 on the site of an earlier structure. It has a beautiful façade built in Tuscan Romanesque style using polychrome marble.

The Piazza del Duomo in Trento
The Piazza del Duomo in Trento
Travel tip:

Trento is a city on the Adige river, which was formerly part of Austria-Hungary. It is famous as the location of the Council of Trent in the 16th century, an ecumenical council that led to a Catholic resurgence in the wake of the Protestant Reformation.  It was annexed by Italy in 1919 and is now one of the country’s most prosperous cities.

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