Character and caricatures of Camillo Golgi and Santiago Ramón y Cajal
Santiago GIMÉNEZ-ROLDÁN1 and Lorenzo LORUSSO2
The contrasting personalities of the Nobel prize winners, Camillo Golgi (1843-1926) and Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934), influenced their relationship and was the centre of a debate within the international scientific community.
The Spanish scientist Cajal’s admiration for his Italian counterpart, Golgi, began in 1887 in Madrid when the Spaniard learned of Golgi’s black reaction technique.
The black reaction, later known as Golgi’s method, was discovered in 1873 in the hospital kitchen at Abbiategrasso, a village not far from Pavia. Golgi used this method to make a number of discoveries on the structure of the nervous system. Based on his observations, he drew up a reticularistic theory according to which nerve cells were fused or interlaced in a diffuse nerve network spreading throughout the nervous system.
Conversely, fifteen years later, using Golgi’s method in almost its original form, Cajal became the champion of the neuron theory, according to which the nervous system is composed of individual cells, like any other tissue.
Their radically opposed views of the brain are also reflected by their completely different characters. Golgi was an introvert and quite reserved, while Cajal was proud and self-confident.
Their personalities were the object of various caricatures of the two neuroscientists. Golgi was depicted as a severe, authoritarian man in public life. Cajal was described as a friendly but outstanding character.
How far did the way they were represented reflect their scientific endeavours?
Pavia, Italy, 2006