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The nervous system in colours: the tabulae pictae of G.F. d’Acquapendente (ca. 1533–1619)

Section Editor note

The appearance in The Journal of Headache and Pain of this paper on an important document of the history of brain anatomy could seem of marginal interest for a journal devoted to clinical and basic research on headache and pain. On the contrary, the knowledge of the remote development of our understanding of the nervous system can throw light on the development which followed in all the fields of neurologic interest [1–3]. In other terms, and just to give an example, modern neurology, and particularly neurophysiopathology and neuropharmacology, would be simply inconceivable without the notion of the neuron and of the synapses, and, before those, of the macroscopic morphology of the nervous system. To rationally modify the software, in this case a clinical condition such as headache, in the favourable terms we desire, would not be possible without a scientific knowledge of the structure of the hardware, the nervous system, which today we are able to manipulate at a very subtle cellular, or even molecular, level. Therefore, a glimpse into this fascinating moment of the Renaissance in which an outstanding advancement of neurological knowledge took place, documented by a pictorial representation – actually a true brain imaging – of exceptional beauty and scientific value, will not only please our eyes, but will also stimulate our interest in a better understanding of the present through the path of the past.

Giorgio Zanchin


1. Zanchin G (2004) New additions to the History of Headache Section. J Headache Pain 5:260

2. Zanchin G (2004) Sources. J Headache Pain 5:261–264

3. Zanchin G (2006) Section Editor note. J Headache Pain 7:149–150


Girolamo Fabrici d’Acquapendente (ca.1533–1619), in his olograph will donated to the Signoria of Venice a rich collection of anatomical paintings, which are today preserved in the Marciana Library. The third volume of these tabulae pictae, entitled De Anatomia Capitis Cerebri Nervorum, deals with the nervous system and contains the only known illustrations by Fabrici regarding neuroanatomy. Despite the realisation of this splendid collection of 21 coloured paintings, neither a systematic description nor an iconographic record regarding nervous structures were found to be published by Fabrici. For this reason, a thorough study of these plates is pivotal to a better understanding of the contribution made by d’Acquapendente to the knowledge of the nervous system. Besides their aesthetic quality, Fabrici’s tabulae pictae appear as a unique document of exceptional scientific value, thanks to the unprecedented realism given to the anatomical structures by the innovative use of colours. These pictures represent the highest point reached by the 16th-century Paduan Medical School well demonstrating its aim for a sound naturalistic approach.

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Zanchin, G., De Caro, R. The nervous system in colours: the tabulae pictae of G.F. d’Acquapendente (ca. 1533–1619). J Headache Pain 7, 360–366 (2006).

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Key words

  • Neuroscience anatomy
  • Anatomy in colour
  • Fabrici
  • Renaissance
  • Padua