Ferdinando Gianotti (1920 - 1984)

Professeur Ruggero Caputo (Milan)
Communication à la Société française d'Histoire de la Dermatologie, le 4 décembre 1998


Ferdinando Gianotti has been one of the most brilliant representatives of the School of Dermatology of Milan. In Milan the School of Dermatology was officially opened in 1924 by Agostino Pasini. In 1946 Agostino Crosti assumed charge and had six successors. Ferdinando Gianotti was one of them.

He was born in 1920 in Corsico, a little town near Milan, and came from a very poor family. After the primary school he started to work in a tannery where, at the age of 13, due to an accident he lost his left forearm. His employer, as compensation, allowed him to complete his studies. Gianotti completed his course in only 5 years. He graduated in Medicine with full marks and honours in 1947. Gianotti selected Dermatology "because with the skin it is impossible to be a cheat " and "because the skin is always a discovery". His academic career has been the following:

He started to work in Pediatric Dermatology in 1953 because "children do not speak", and also because "the smile of a cured child has an inestimable value". In 1954 Gianotti created the first Italian (and probably European) department of Pediatric Dermatology.

Gianotti was an introvert, reserved, taciturn, apparently surly man, but gifted with a wonderful memory and an unhelievable capacity to observe. Being with children, helped to change his character ; he emanated sweetness, bewitched their presence and was even able to receive their affection in return An uncommon capacity for insight, perhaps genius, permitted Gianotti many original observations. He was the author of more than 200 publications concerning blister diseases, mastocytoses, lichen striatus, pityriasis lichenoides, genodermatoses.

His main observation was "the papular acrodermatitis of childhood" that he described in 1955. It is now universally known under the term of "Gianotti-Crosti syndrome".

Gianotti was also a great expert in the field of histiocytic syndromes and, in 1971, in collaboration with Caputo and Ermacora, described a rare form of non Langerhans cells histiocytosis involving the head and named "Benign cephalic histiocytosis".

His way of teaching was unconventional, but sharply stimulating. He never offered the diagnosis of a disease directly, but always invited the student to reach a diagnosis on his own by observing, reading, inquiring and thinking.

Ferdinando Gianotti has four disciples: Elisa Ermacora, Ruggero Caputo, Carlo Gelmetti, and Grazia Pistritto.

He was a pioneer of pediatric dermatology and is now considered one of the fathers of this discipline. He is always present every morning among us.

"Only a great man may teach after his death"