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Nicolò, Giovanni and Marsilio Santasofia

Nicolò (died in Padua in 1350) was a student of Pietro d’Abano and taught medicine in Padua until his death. He was the forefather of an illustrious family of doctors who played a leading role in both the professional and academic field for many generations.

His sons, Giovanni and Marsilio, were both incredibly famous doctors and professors. We know about Nicolò’s collection of prescriptions, a substantial body of practical medical-pharmacological knowledge, which became widespread and had considerable fortune. The oldest manuscript that refers to this collection of prescriptions dates back to 1211 and contains around 540 prescriptions. This is Padua’s first collection of prescriptions, fruit of Nicolò’s decades of experience, as well as the experience of his many colleagues and the doctors who went before them. They were copied down and reorganised by Nicolò’s son, Giovanni. This collection of prescriptions and some additional advice probably represent Nicolò’s only works, but they were enough to make him famous and were fundamental in generating the family’s fortunes.

His son Giovanni (Padua, approx. 1330 – 1389) graduated in medicine from the University of Padova in 1353. He dedicated his first years of teaching to reworking his father’s collection of prescriptions, which he completed before 1363. In 1364, he was invited to teach practical medicine at the University of Perugia and, in 1366, he returned to Padua, once again taking up both his teaching position and his role in the graduate college of doctors and artists. In 1370, Luigi Gonzaga invited him to Mantua to be his personal doctor, where he stayed for almost five years. In 1380, he was once again called to Perugia and then returned to Padua towards the end of 1383. In the end, he accepted a job in Bologna between 1388-89 but died before he began the courses. With regard to the production of prescriptions, he helped to draw up consilia; he wrote comments on works by Galen and Avicenna and was named “monarcha medicinae”, a nickname that would also then be given to his brother Marsilio.

Giovanni’s brother, Marsilio (Padua, around 1338 – Bologna, 31.1.1405), graduated in medicine from the University of Padova in 1365. He first taught logic and then medicine at the university, at least from 1377 onwards. He then moved to Siena during the academic year of 1387-88, before moving on to Florence and then Pavia in 1389. He returned to Padua in 1392 where he began teaching again. In 1396, he once again moved to Pavia where he was a doctor to Gian Galeazzo Visconti and a professor at the university there. Towards the end of 1399, he stayed briefly in Buda upon request of the King of Hungary. He returned to Padua in 1404 following the death of Gian Galeazzo and immediately accepted the professorship of ordinary medicine in Bologna where he died and was then buried in the Church of St. Francis. His work focused on comments on key texts used to teach medicine, the Articella and the Avicenna Canon. All of his comments became widespread, as can be seen in the numerous manuscripts that were written, and they had remarkable influence.