La medicina statica

A copy of an 18th century edition of Santorio's Ars De Statica Medicina 

Santorio Santori and the Emergence of Quantifying Procedures in Medicine at the end of the Renaissance: Problems, Context, Ideas

The Project 

The project, funded in 2015 by the Wellcome Trust, focuses on the Italian physician Santorio Santori (1561-1636) and, by means of his works, on the emergence of quantifying procedures in medicine at the end of the Renaissance.

Santorio has been considered the first to introduce the quantification of specific metabolic processes (namely the so-called perspiratio insensibilis) in his work Ars de statica medicina (Venice 1614) and for many physicians of the seventeenth and eighteenth century his legacy has been as important as the one of William Harvey. He invented also many scientific instruments still used today in clinic (among them was the thermometer) and, long before Descartes, Santorio applied the model of clockwork to the body in order to study its main functions.


Santorio remains still today a quite ignored figure, especially in the English-speaking world. As such, the relevance of the project consists not only in its intrinsic novelty and in its methods, that will involve a wide-range research in many archives of Europe, but also in his approach to the question of quantification. Indeed, such a research has the possibility to reshape an important field of knowledge, that is to say the relevance of statics experiments in the history of physiology and the impetus toward quantification and controlled experimentation that would lead European medicine from the qualitative approach of the Galenic system to the quantitative approach of the Iatromechanicism (Borelli, Descartes, Boerhaave, etc.).


The project is built on three fundamental questions. 

  1. How does the need for quantification and controlled experimentation emerge in Italian medicine of the late sixteenth century?
  2. How did the invention of apparatuses and tools for patients’ care affect the conceptions of Santorio Santori and late-Renaissance physicians?
  3. How did Santorio’s methods influence the development of the later physiology and what was their impact on so-called Iatromechanics?


The project proposes to study Santorio’s links with the Galenic and Hellenistic Medical tradition, exploring underlying elements of continuity and innovation in his work, while considering the invention and fabrication of instruments as one of the turning point of his legacy. Santorio’s manufacturing of scientific devices will be considered in the framework of late-Renaissance technology as well as the theoretical knowledge required in manufacturing them. Accordingly, a reconstruction of their inner mechanism is also foreseen. The research shall consider also if and what kind of precision such instruments were able to guarantee as well as the type of experiments undertaken by Santorio. Finally, the project will focus on a comparative and systematic study of later editions and commentaries of Santorio’s Ars de statica medicina in order to show how his legacy was continued and transformed through seventeenth and eighteenth-century medicine. 

For more information on the project, please contact Dr Fabrizio Bigotti

Project Conference

Humours, Mixtures and Corpuscles

18 - 20 May 2017
Domus Comeliana, Pisa