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William Harvey

(Folkestone, 1.4.1578 – Roehampton, 3.6.1657)

This English doctor, who discovered blood circulation, is one of the 40 illustrious foreign students to be depicted by Gian Giacomo Dal Forno in the hall leading into the Great Hall.

Harvey came to Padua in 1599 after beginning his studies in Cambridge. He was a council member of the Natio Anglica and graduated in philosophy and medicine on 25th April 1602.

After returning to England in 1615, he began teaching anatomy and physiology at the Royal College of Physicians and, in 1642, he became head of Merton College in Oxford. His teachings and studies were deeply rooted in his education from Padua which, first and foremost, led to him gaining a comprehensive understanding of blood circulation. In this field, the University of Padova provided him with the knowledge but, above all, the methodologies to allow him to develop his demonstration of blood circulation, which he described in his “Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus” (1628). The teachings of Girolamo Fabrici d’Acquapendente had such an influence on Harvey that he used a figure featured in the maestro’s work on veins, and based many of his arguments regarding blood circulation on the action of vein valves. With regard to cardiocentrism and circular motion, Harvey got his inspiration from the lesson of Aristotle, of whom he was a loyal follower.

Aristotelianism was also widespread in Padua, with the city’s university offering ordinary and extraordinary professorships teaching much of Aristotle’s work, as was the case for the lessons held by Cesare Cremonini. Furthermore, when demonstrating his theory of hemodynamics, Harvey applied Galileo’s measurement principle: the mass of blood that passes through the heart or a large vessel in any given amount of time is so large that this indicates the regular return of the same substance.

William Harvey's coat of arms is in the Ancient Courtyard of Palazzo Bo in Padua.

William Harvey’s coat of arms is in the Ancient Courtyard of Palazzo Bo in Padua.