Luca Ghini

Luca Ghini (1490-1556)
Luca Ghini (1490-1556)

The University of Bologna was one of the most important centers of Italian Botanical Culture since the sixteenth century. A central figure in this discipline was the Italian physician and naturalist Luca Ghini, not so much for his publications, as for his teaching and scientific contacts, for the establishment of specifically botanical courses at University, the foundation of the first Botanical Garden in the world and the introduction of the herbarium as a collection of dried plants.

Luca Ghini held the chair of Botany, at that time known as Chair of Herbs. In mediaeval terminology “herbs”, or rather “herbal principles”, were the drugs directly extracted from the plant. The Chair of Herbs was in fact addressed to medical students and for a long time these two disciplines – medicine and botany – remained united. Luca Ghini’s tasks in Bologna were both lectures and practical demonstrations on the herbs (the latter also known as “ostensor”). Ghini required suitable material for these practical demonstrations on the plant species, which his students had to recognise. He therefore asked the Civic Senate for a place to grow his “herbs”. According to Monti, in Bologna existed since 1365 a garden, in which plants with pharmaceutical properties were grown. It seems that it was created only for practical purposes and not for teaching. According to Savelli, there were two small gardens: one situated in the Monastery of S. Salvatore, and the other in the Gozzadini estate. Moreover it seems that Ghini obtained some plants from a private garden that belonged to Paolo Poeta, of whom we have no other information; in any case these small gardens offered inadequate solutions to the development of botany and to the tasks assigned to Luca Ghini. Owing to the Senate’s indifference and to his low salary, Ghini was compelled to take a drastic resolution: to accept a good offer from the Grand Duke of Tuscany. He therefore moved to Pisa, where he quickly obtained the indispensable support needed to found in 1544, (the exact date is unknown), the Botanic Garden of that city. Nowadays the Botanic Garden of Pisa is considered the oldest in the world, although this record is challenged by Padua, whose Botanic Garden was founded, as certified by a Senate-decree of the Republic of Venice, on June 29, 1545.

Luca Ghini, who later also founded the Botanic Garden of Florence, can be considered one of the most important Botanists of all times. This famous founder of the Italian school of Botany, teacher of Cesalpino, Mattioli, Aldrovandi and other famous Botanists, was also the first author of a “herbal”, in the modern sense.

Illustrazione del genere Ghinia, dedicato a Luca Ghini dal botanico Johann Christian von Schreber
Illustration of the genus Ghinia, dedicated to Luca Ghini by the botanic Johann Christian von Schreber


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