Showing posts with label ruysch. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ruysch. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Plague Buboes and Preserved Primates – The Morbid Anatomy/Museum Vrolik “Amsterdam Weekend of Anatomy”: Guest Post by Schemenkabinett

The following is a review of the recent Morbid Anatomy/Museum Vrolik Amsterdam Weekend of Anatomy originally published by Katharina von Oheimb and Parm von Oheimb on their German-language Schemenkabinett blog. A translation of the piece, especially for Morbid Anatomy readers, follows; you can see the original piece by clicking here. To get on the Morbid Anatomy mailing list and thus be alerted to similar events in the future, click here.
In Amsterdam, we devoted ourselves to the field between anatomy and arts for a whole weekend.

He was called the “Artist of Death.” On the screen in the small lecture room at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, a surreal scene appears, showing human fetal skeletons that seem to wipe away their tears with handkerchiefs made of preserved meninges. It is one of Frederick Ruysch’s (1638-1731) anatomical dioramas (top image). With his preparations and dioramas, Dutch anatomist and botanist Ruysch created unique works of art. The attendees in the lecture room look with fascination at his works. More than sixty participants have gathered at the weekend of 10th and 11th May 2014 to take part at the “Amsterdam Weekend of Anatomy” at Museum Vrolik. The event was brought into being by Joanna Ebenstein from Morbid Anatomy and Laurens de Rooy, the director of Museum Vrolik. Together with the other attendees--who came mostly came from the Netherlands, but also from Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, Poland, and the USA--we are listening to the first talks of this day. We will encounter Frederick Ruysch several times again during the next days, because his connection between scientific accuracy and artistic presentation can be discovered in every corner of this place.

Marieke Hendriksen reports in her talk about the puzzle of the beaded babies, which she investigated for her dissertation. An image on the screen shows a newborn baby in a jar filled with preservational liquid, decorated with beaded strings around its neck and wrists. In total, only eleven of such decorated specimens are known. All of them are from Dutch collections and from between 1780 and 1810. Hendriksen explains how she thoroughly investigated historical collections and how she examined literature to find evidence for the origin of these unique specimens. Probably, they stem from Dutch colonies; this puzzle, however, has not been finally solved yet.

In the afternoon, we participate in a wax modeling course (second image down). Medical wax models, so called moulages, are lifelike moldings of diseased body parts. They served for the training of physicians, but have also been used for explaining disease symptoms to the public. Due to the plasticity of the presentations, they have been clearly superior to drawings. For the creation of moulages, modeling material has often been applied directly to diseased parts of skin to obtain highly realistic moldings. In this way, whole series could be created, which documented the development of diseases or the effect of therapies. Only with the emergence of color photography, moulages became less important.
As we are entering the course room, pale wax faces already wait at our workplaces. During the next hours, we add disease symptoms and several wounds to them under the tutelage of Eleanor Crook. The London-based artist Crook has specialized in the creation of moulages. In courses like this, she explains impressively how plastic plague buboes can be formed from a special wax and later get colorized in bluish black. After finishing the course, we proudly bag our grotesque faces that are terribly disfigured by plague and syphilis and meet for the end of the evening at the exhibition room of Museum Vrolik, which has been exclusively opened for us. In the midst of all the showcases full of medical specimens, we have the opportunity to acquaint with the highly interesting group of participants.

The next day starts with a talk about the history of the moulages held by the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam (third image down). These artfully designed moldings stem from the early 20th century. Soon afterwards, we find ourselves in the part of the building complex, where the moulages are stored today. Faces that are badly marked by diseases but appear strangely alive, as well as arms, hands, and genitals are stored in showcases and cabinets. Most of these medical artworks have been created at the island Sumatra and present tropical skin diseases.

Afterwards, the preparator Inge Dijkman gives us an introduction to her work at Museum Vrolik (bottom image). She has brought a small selection of specimens with her. Very cautious, Dijkman lifts an almost 10 cm large, preserved fetus out of the liquid and shows it to us. She explains that this fetus had implanted outside the uterine cavity. During such a so-called ectopic pregnancy, the fetus dies in most cases.
After this exceptional insight into the preparation laboratory, we take part at a guided tour to selected specimens of Museum Vrolik, where we learn about several fascinating details. Willem Vrolik (1801-1863), for example, one of the founders of the collection, was the first person that recorded multiple congenital disorders. He described, for instance, the first known case of the Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome. Individuals who suffer from this syndrome are not able to produce cholesterol. The external characteristics of the syndrome are diverse and range from female genitalia in combination with a male chromosome set, to malpositions of hands and feet, and to supernumerary fingers and toes. Depending on the severity of symptoms, where internal organs are also mostly limited in their functionality, this genetic disease often ends fatally.

At the end of our weekend at Museum Vrolik, a guided tour leads to the collection rooms in the basement of the Academic Medical Center, which are usually closed to the public. During the Cold War, a nuclear bombproof underground hospital was installed here. Today, the thick walls and heavy door locks bring the former function still to mind. Curator Laurens de Rooy guides us to the first room, which contains parts of the anthropological and zoological collections. In the second room, multiple specimen jars are stored in shelves. Animals with malformations are a main focus of the collection and have been used for comparative anatomy studies. In the third room, dry preparations are stored. Various preserved skulls of humans and other primates stand close together. One of our highlights in this room is the artfully created historical dry preparation of a human arm, where the pattern of tendons is clearly visible. By leaving the underground rooms, our “Amsterdam Weekend of Anatomy” ends.
During the two days at Museum Vrolik, we could gather various exciting impressions and meet a lot of interesting people. The event connected arts and science in a unique way and was worthwhile in all respects. Due to the high approval of the “Amsterdam Weekend of Anatomy,” the event is planned to take place again next year in a similar form.
  1. Anatomical diorama by Frederik Ruysch (engraving by Cornelius Huyberts)
  2. In the course it is learned how medical max models are created. Photo courtesy of Katharina von Oheimb and Parm von Oheimb.
  3. Collection of historical moulages at the Academic Medical Center. Photo courtesy of Katharina von Oheimb and Parm von Oheimb.
  4. Insights into different preparation techniques. Photo courtesy of Katharina von Oheimb and Parm von Oheimb.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Light and Dust: A Reading of Johannes Jacob Scheuchzer's 'Homo ex Humo': A Guest Post by Morbid Anatomy Scholar in Residence Richard Barnett

This April, we have been delighted to host Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow and medical historian Richard Barnett as Morbid Anatomy Library Scholar in Residence. This is the first of what we hope will be many posts wherein Richard responds to objects, ideas and artifacts in our collection. Here, he draws out the intricate tangle of ideas in the the illustrations of Scheuchzer's 1731 Physica Sacra (top image) and the fetal skeleton tableaux of Frederik Ruysch (bottom image). Copies of both books now reside in the Morbid Anatomy Museum Collection.
Light and Dust: A Reading of Johannes Jacob Scheuchzer's 'Homo ex Humo'
By Richard Barnett

Homo ex Humo: man from the dust. Scheuchzer’s intriguing trompe l’oie presents a picture within a picture, and a meditation on some of the oppositions at the heart of Christianity – eternity and time, grace and sin, flesh and word, light and dust.

Everything within the frame is graceful, in the most literal sense. Scheuchzer shows us the Garden of Eden on the evening of the sixth day of creation, as set out in the Book of Genesis 1:26-27 (King James Version):
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
A landscape which to modern eyes bears such clear traces of deep time and evolution served Scheuchzer and his readers well as a symbol of creation. The first dew is hardly dry on the ground, and even the dust, the abject and impermanent dust, is fresh and new. A gentle, sylvan river valley is busy with life: trees, flowers, fruits, grasses, and most of all animals, paired off two by two like the figures in a Victorian Noah’s Ark (though not in the Biblical version – see Genesis 7:1-3). Rabbits and horses, muskrats and storks have been made whole through union with a mate, and their lives are as complete as the paradise they inhabit.

Only one creature lacks a partner. Adam, the first man, seems startled to have been vaulted so suddenly into existence, and the curious position of his hands indicates an absence in his life, even in the moment of his creation. He appears to be trying to pray, but each hand cannot find its natural counterpart. If he is to praise his creator, if he is to live as contentedly the animals over which he has been granted dominion, he needs a companion. The voluptuous shapes of roots and tree-trunks beside him foreshadow what is on God’s mind, but the fulfilment of Adam’s lack will destroy the paradise we see.

Everything outside the frame is imperfect, and this imperfection is a consequence of the story unfolding within the frame. God creates Adam, then Eve, causing Adam to fall into a deep sleep and making the first woman from his rib (Genesis 1:18-25). Eve is tempted by the serpent and tempts Adam; both taste fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and fall from their original state of grace. Dissected specimens around the frame contrast the messy, fleshly reality of human reproduction, in sin and without grace, with the purity of God’s original creation in the picture – a shaft of light and a word.

On the right side of the frame is one of the strangest figures in Western art, borrowed from the Dutch anatomist Frederik Ruysch’s 'Tableau With Three Skeletons.' Ruysch combines two near-universal representations of birth and death – an infant and a skeleton – into a single figure expressing the sublime tragedy of creation and fall. The largest figure in the engraving, it seems to have stepped out of the picture and on to the frame, and this movement from perfection to imperfection may help to explain why it is drying its empty eye-sockets with a caul.

Inverting the natural order of things, this skeleton has died before it could be born, and it weeps for what is to come. If it is a child of Adam and Eve, is it Cain, the first murderer, or Abel, the first victim of murder? Leaving Eden, carrying the burden of original sin, it enacts the fall and banishment of its parents, taking the first reluctant steps on a long and hard road to salvation. No wonder it weeps, then; what can dry bones weep but dust?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Please Welcome Frederik Ruysch's 18th Century "Thesaurus Anatomicus" to the Morbid Anatomy Museum Collection!

We are thrilled to announce the newest addition to the Morbid Anatomy Museum library collection: "Thesaurus Anatomicus," an 18th century guide to anatomist and artist Frederik Ruysch's museum and cabinet, lavishly illustrated by Cornelis Huyberts. If you ever wondered where the image on our t-shirts and tote bags were sourced, this is the place!

This acquisition will be the inspiration for future lectures (by folks like Evan Michelson, our scholar in residence, seen above) as well as exhibitions and publications, so stay tuned for more on that as it develops.
You can find out more about the fabulous Ruysch--whom we consider the patron saint of Morbid Anatomy, with works that so beautifully blurthe boundaries of art, religion and science--by clicking here and here.

More about the book, from Christie's auction house:
Probably the most original artist in the history of anatomical preparations, the anatomist, Frederik Ruysch enjoyed making up elaborate three-dimensional emblems of mortality from his specimens. These fantastic, dream-like concoctions constructed of human anatomical parts are illustrated in the Thesaurus on large folding plates mostly engraved by Cornelis Huyberts, who also engraved plates for the painter Girard de Lairesse, illustrator of Bidloo's anatomy. In their dreamlike qualities many of the plates depicting the preparations reflect surrealism centuries before surrealism became fashionable. Ruysch's Thesaurus Anatomicus and his Thesaurus Animalium describe and illustrate the spectacular collections of "Anatomical Treasures" which he produced for display in his home museum between 1701 and 1716 using secret methods of anatomical injection and preservation.

Ruysch's unique anatomical preparations attracted many notables to his museum, including Czar Peter the Great of Russia, who was so fascinated with the preparations that he attended Ruysch's anatomy lectures, and in 1717 he bought Ruysch's entire collection, along with that of the Amsterdam apothecary Albert Seba, for Russia's first public museum, the St. Petersburg Kunstkammer. Over the years most of the dry preparations in St. Petersburg deteriorated or disappeared, but some of those preserved in glass jars remain. A few later specimens by Ruysch, auctioned off by his widow after his death, are also preserved in Leiden. Because most of the preparations did not survive, Ruysch's preparations, and his museum, are known primarily from these publications.

Ruysch's methods allowed him to prepare organs such as the liver and kidneys and keep entire corpses for years. He used a mixture of talc, white wax, and cinnabar for injecting vessels and an embalming fluid of alcohol made from wine or corn with black pepper added. Using his injection methods Ruysch was the first to demonstrate the occurrence of blood vessels in almost all tissues of the human body, thereby destroying the Galenic belief that certain areas of the body had no vascular supply. He was also the first to show that blood vessels display diverse organ-specific patterns. He investigated the valves in the lymphatic system, the bronchial arteries and the vascular plexuses of the heart, and was the first to point out the nourishment of the fetus through the umbilical cord. Ruysch's discoveries led him to claim erroneously that tissues consisted solely of vascular networks, and to deny the existence of glandular tissue.

Thesaurus Animalium
first appeared in ten parts published in Amsterdam between 1701 and 1716.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"Death Defied: The Anatomy Lessons of Frederik Ruysch," Book Review by Charles Wolfe and Benjamin Goldberg

My friend Charles Wolfe of Ghent University / University of Sydney has just sent along a review he co-wrote with Benjamin Goldberg of one of the most prized (and costly!) books in the Morbid Anatomy Library: Death Defied: The Anatomy Lessons of Frederik Ruysch, a biography by Luuc Kooijmans.

He has kindly allowed me to publish an excerpt here:
Outside of historians of medicine, or of Dutch science, not many of us are particularly familiar with the Dutch anatomist, apothecary, “municipal obstetrician,” museum curator, and compleat naturalist Frederik Ruysch (1638– 1731), unless we are also frequent visitors to blogs with names such as Morbid Anatomy—for Ruysch’s anatomical preparations really were sui generis, one of a kind, somewhere in between scientifically remarkable, extremely useful in the progress of anatomical knowledge, and magnificently quirky and disturbing. His “prepared” embryos and small children were frequently described as being asleep rather than dead. Balzac, in his 1831 novel La peau de chagrin (which has been variously translated as The Magic Skin or TheWild Ass Skin), has the main character enter a curiosity shop and see what he thinks is a sleeping child; it turns out to be a lost “item” from Ruysch’s anatomical collection.

Kooijmans also tells the story of the Emperor Peter the Great (who bought Ruysch’s collection, which presently is in St. Petersburg, having experienced some ups and downs in the standards of preservation over the years) kneeling to kiss a “sleeping child” embalmed by Ruysch. We can get this uncanny Ruyschian effect for ourselves—albeit mediated by oil paint—if we look at the wonderful, Rembrandt-inspired painting of Ruysch and friends entitled The Anatomy Lesson of Frederik Ruysch (above) by Adriaan Backer (1670; in the Amsterdam Historical Museum), which Kooijmans has reproduced. As contrasted with any other “anatomy lesson” painting, the corpse here looks much more like a sleeping person than a dead body. This is also the theme in a remarkable piece of literature that Kooijmans barely discusses, Giacomo Leopardi’s “Dialogue between Frederick Ruysch and His Mummies,” in his 1824 Operette morali, which is a meditation on death and the uncanny “life-likeness” of the preserved bodies (which Leopardi calls mummies).

The point that Ruysch belonged to multiple different scientific, cultural, aesthetic, and otherwise quirky trajectories (including currently fashionable discussion of visuality in the history of science) is also apparent if we contrast the high praise Ruysch received posthumously from such otherwise nationalistic  historians of medicine as Portal and Daremberg, his éloge by Fontenelle, or, most strikingly to us, the fact that after Newton’s death the Académie des Sciences in Paris decided to honor Ruysch by appointing him to Newton’s place (p. 422) with facts such as these: a 1690 inventory of his collection included “the skeleton of a human embryo of 4 months, holding in its left hand a bundle of lymph vessels, which I removed from a body more than 25 yrs ago, inflated and preserved in such a way that the valves are still clearly visible. What a lot of trouble beautiful things can be!” (59), or, much more disturbingly, the specimen, or tableau non vivant as the author puts it, of a hand holding a vulva, from Leiden University’s collection (reproduced on 284; some of these images are probably too macabre for most readers).

Sometimes, the disturbing is just strange, perhaps because we have only the story, rather than “the thing itself” (e.g., one item in his collection was described as “a small 4-footed animal that had been regurgitated by a 78-year old woman …enclosed in a pouch rather than membranes” [282]; the family wanted no money and there were credible witnesses to the event). However, the extent to which monstrosity can infect history (via the imagination) is surprising: Kooijmans notes that of the nearly one thousand specimens prepared by Ruysch, which were later bought by Peter the Great and shipped to St. Petersburg, only 11 actually display abnormalities. More conventionally beautiful are his daughter Rachel’s still-life paintings...
You can read this review in its entirety by clicking here; You can also come pay a visit the book at The Morbid Anatomy Library during open hours from 2-6 every Saturday, or buy a copy of your own by clicking here.

Image: The Anatomy Lesson of Frederik Ruysch (above) by Adriaan Backer (1670; in the Amsterdam Historical Museum); click on image to see larger, more detailed version.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Selling the Dead: Anatomy as Business in the Dutch Golden Age, Lecture this Friday by Daniel Margocsy at Observatory

This Friday at Observatory! Hope to see you there.

Selling the Dead: Anatomy as Business in the Dutch Golden Age
An Illustrated Lecture with
Daniel Margocsy of Hunter College
Date: Friday, March 23rd
Time: 8:00
Admission: $5
Presented by Morbid Anatomy

What can dead bodies tell you about the secret of life? And how can you make money from investigating these secrets? This lecture takes us back to the Dutch Golden Age when anatomists busily engaged with cutting up cadavers, orangoutans and exotic toads to study the circulation of blood, sweat and tears. Sumptuous paintings, color prints, illustrated atlases, wax preparations and bottled embryos showcased and touted the latest discoveries about the human body.

It was a good business to do anatomy. Immortalized by Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson, Dr. Tulp was one of the richest men in Amsterdam, and Frederik Ruysch amassed a fortune from selling his anatomical specimens to the Russian czar. The talk reveals the entrepreneurial life of Dutch physicians, surgeons and apothecaries who transformed decaying cadavers into material wealth.

Daniel Margocsy is assistant professor of early modern history at Hunter College – CUNY. He received his PhD in the history of science from Harvard University in 2009. He has published articles in the Journal of the History of Ideas, the British Journal for the History of Science and the Netherlands Yearbook of Art History, and is currently working on the book Commercial Visions: Science, Trade and Visual Culture in the Dutch Golden Age.

Image: Frederik Ruysch tableau utilizing fetal skeletons and other human remains, from a 1744 etching

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