Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Fortunato of Brescia

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Morphologist and Minorite of the Reform of Lombardy; b. at Brescia, 1701; d. at Madrid, 1754. He received the religious habit in 1718. A distinguished philosopher and theologian, Fortunato was also renowned for his studies in the natural sciences. He was secretary general of his order, and stood in high favour at the Bourbon court of Spain. A special importance attaches to his philosophical works, as he was among the first to bring together the teachings of Scholastic philosophy and the discoveries of the physical sciences. His scientific work is rendered important by his extensive use of the microscope, in which he followed the lead of Malpighi. Avoiding the then prevalent discussions on vitalism, he devoted himself to a positive study of the problems of natural science. Convinced that a knowledge of microscopic anatomy is the key to the secrets of nature, he deemed two things to be of prime importance: first, an experimental study of the histological constitution of the various organs, to learn their functions; and second, the separation of these organs into their elements, to determine their embryological origin. In spite of all opposition, this view, so clearly set forth in the works of Fortunato, has prevailed in pathological and physiological schools, and has indicated a method of examining what was formerly considered the most complex and delicate part of the human body, namely the central nervous system. The same view has also led to some of the most remarkable discoveries in biology. In this sense Fortunato is a pioneer. In fact it was century after that Bichat, following Bourdeu's lead, and, later on, Cuvier, advanced in the same direction. True to his purpose, Fortunato gave no heed to the anti-vitalistic controversies of his day, and spent no time investigating plastic force and the nisus formativus; he confined himself to the microscopic study of the parts of the organism, and in this way succeeded in classifying tissues and organs many years before Bichat (1800), who received all the credit for the classification. Fortunato was the first to distinguish between tissues and organs. He established the idea of tissues, or, as he wrote, "of those organic parts which possess a definite structure visible with the microscope and characterized by their component elements". With sufficient accuracy he described connective and bony tissue. The morphological complexus of the various tissues he calls the "system of tissues"; and the physiological complexus of the various organs he calls the "system of organs". These exact notions must have been the reward of wide and difficult investigation, as at the time there was no systematic technic in microscopy. From his many accurate descriptions, it is evident that his researches extended to many animals, and particularly to insects. In view of all this, it seems warranted to assert that Fortunato was the first morphologist, especially as not the slightest hint of this most important branch of comparative anatomy is found in Malpighi, Morgagni, Leeuwenhoek, or Haller, the path-finders in microscopic anatomy.

GEMELLI, Un precursore della moderna morfologia comparata in Atti del Congresso dei Naturalisti Italiani (Milan, 1907); IDEM, P. Fortunato da Brescia in Rivista di fisica, matematica e scienze naturali (Pavia, 1908), with portrait and complete bibliography.

A. Gemelli.