Claire Litt //

Cornelis Dusart, 1675-1704, “The Barber”. Print. The British Museum. Museum number
S.3751. Accessed Friday March 13 2020.

In 1427 Maestro Giovanni Bartolomeo, a doctor of good social standing, lived in the Leon Rosso Quarter of Santa Maria Novella in Florence (Castato ID: 50005679). It was a good neighbourhood–in fact, the richest family in Florence, the Strozzi, lived there. Unlike other Italian city-states, the Guild of Doctors and Apothecaries in Florence did not require its medici (physicians) to have a university degree. Instead, to become a physician, one had to pass the guild’s entrance examination (Park, 18). Bartolomeo’s honorific title of Maestro, however, suggests that he was not an empiric (a man whose authority was based on experiential knowledge), but rather that he was formally trained as a dottori in the theories of Hippocrates, Galen and Avicenna, most likely at the University of Pisa or Bologna (Shaw and Welch, 42). Bartolomeo earned a respectable income and lived, with his wife and four children, in a rented home. Such details of this doctor’s life are known to us through the Florentine 1427 castato (census), transcribed and digitized by David Herlihy and Christiaine Klapisch-Zuber. This incredible resource allows us to reconstruct not only Bartolomeo’s life, but also the entire medical community as it existed at one particular point in time in early modern Florence.

    Included among the Guild of Doctors and Apothecaries in Florence were the professions of leather-workers, barbers and painters–not to mention grave-diggers, whose talents were routinely employed by physicians (Park, 17). The applications of these trades’ skills to medicine were practical. Barbers cut hair, an intimate experience that involved running a sharp blade over skin. They knew how much pressure to apply to cut bodies. Bloodletting, tooth-pulling and surgeries were often carried out at the barber shop. Leather-workers and shoemakers stitched pelle (translated as either skin or leather), and so they could stitch up patients after surgery. The 1427 castato even lists the profession of “Maestro Benedetto di Francesco di Michele” as ‘shoemaker and eyedoctor,’ because he regularly stitched up peoples’ eyeballs after cataract surgery (Shaw and Welch, 42).

     In Leon Rosso there were five barbers with whom Maestro Bartolomeo was likely acquainted, and may have even worked with. One stands out in particular. It was uncommon for tradespeople to have surnames in Florence; most people were referred to by their first name followed by the name of their father or grandfather. However, the 65-year old barber Piero Iacopo Del Mazzo not only had a last name but also owned his own home, where he lived with his wife and five children (Castato ID: 50005733). His taxable income, 242 florins, was above average for his trade. Unless Del Mazzo was the most sought-out hair stylist in all of Florence, his success was likely due to the demand for his practical surgical skills. Maestro Bartolomeo might have been responsible for determining the course of treatment a patient would receive, but it would have been a barber like Del Mazzo who carried out the surgery. The German scholar Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa touched on this distinction, and privileged medical experience over theory, when he wrote “Sureans [surgeons] see and feele what thei do” while “the counsailes of other Phisitions [physicians] be uncertaine” (Smith, 156).

     Maestro Bartolomeo and the barber Del Mazzo probably knew the apothecaries in their neighbourhood. In Leon Rosso there were eight men listed under Medico e Speziale; doctors and apothecaries, which included the trade of saponaio (soap-maker). In Florence the Speziale (more literally translated a “spicer”) sold everything from paint pigments, medicines, herbs–and, of course, spices. Starting in 1498, the ingredients apothecaries were obligated to keep in stock were regulated by the Florentine College of Physicians in a publication that was periodically revised throughout the years, and which would eventually become known as the Ricettario Fiorentino. That doctors, alchemists, homemakers, and painters alike bought ingredients from the same shop does not mean that it was not a medical supply store, but rather that all of these people were involved in the medical community. Alchemists dedicated their time to inventing new medical recipes. Recently, scholarship has emphasized the essential roles of women in the medical community. Their domestic roles put them on the forefront of patient care whenever a family member became ill.

     Painters were included in the Guild of Doctors and Apothecaries because doctors and painters relied heavily on one another. University-trained doctors (who may not have engaged in anatomical dissections themselves) needed painters to create accurate paintings and drawings of the body. The painters, in turn, required anatomical knowledge of the body to realistically render it in art. Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543), considered the first modern medical textbook in Western Europe, contained a plethora of anatomical drawings that were startlingly accurate and life-like. It was aimed at both medical and art students alike. Whether Bartolomeo and Del Mazzo were in contact with their local painters is less certain than their association with each other and the apothecaries. However, there were two painters in the Leon Rosso neighbourhood: 25-year old Piero Nanni, who lived at home at his parents’, and 55-year old Stefano Del Nero (Castato IDS: 50005852, 50005899). 

     Living in Leon Roso in 1427 were two doctors, five barbers, eight informally-educated physicians, apothecaries, and soap-makers, two painters, and countless (or rather, not counted by the census) housewives. Medicine’s practitioners were divided between theory, as dictated by the doctors, and practice carried out by not only by barbers, but by a whole range of people whose practical skillsets intersected medicine, and whose acquaintances with each other crossed class boundaries and trades to comprise the Florentine medical community.


Works Cited:

1427 Castato Database:

Herlihy, David, and Anthony Molho. “Florentine Renaissance Resources: Online Catasto of 1427.” Online Catasto of 1427. Brown University . Accessed March 8, 2020.

Secondary Sources:

Park, Katherine. Doctors and Medicine in Early Renaissance Florence. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Shaw, James Edric., and Evelyn S. Welch. Making and Marketing Medicine in Renaissance Florence. Amsterdam, NL : Rodopi, 2011.

Smith, Pamela H. The Body of the Artisan: art and experience in the scientific revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

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