De anatomische preparaten van Frederik Ruysch

Famous Amsterdam Anatomist

Frederik Ruysch, 1638 - 1731

Frederik Ruysch was born on March 23, 1638, in The Hague in a family of jurists and government officials. He practices as an apothecary when he became a medical student at Leyden University. He defended his dissertation July 28, 1664. His publication in 1665 on lymphatic vessels attracted the attention of Amsterdam city government who appointed him December 29, 1666 Praelector Anatomy and surgery at the College of Surgeons. March 24, 1685 Ruysch was appointed Botany Professor à titre personnel by the city government. He died in office February 22, 1731 in Amsterdam.

The Dutch anatomist Frederik Ruysch preserved in Amsterdam during the years 1665-1717 over 2.000 anatomical preparations. He himself handled the scalpel 'to poke about in dead bodies'. He had to, he said, because anatomy books and their illustrations did not give him 'sufficient light'.

Preparations as proof

He kept his preparations, embalmed or hung in alcohol, at home. His preparations served as the material proof for his discoveries. Those he could not convince by his drawings, he invited to look for themselves at his home. For medical doctors, colleagues, students, scientists, philosophers, aristocrats and princes alike Ruysch opened up his Museum. For his visitors he had handsome illustrated guidebooks, Thesauri anatomici, printed. Here Ruysch described his preparations one by one and gave elaborate explanations.

From Amsterdam to Saint Petersburg

In 1717 Ruysch sold his entire collection for a fabulous high prize to a very prominent visitor, Tsar Peter I. The Tsar built for this collection a Kunstkamera that became the scientific centre where all knowledge was available and developed into the new Imperial Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. With this Peter I introduced European Enlightenment and modern sciences in Russia.

Cultural Heritage in Petersburg and Amsterdam reunited

In the Kunstkamera 915 specimens survive due to the excellent care of successive curators. The link however between object and text, was lost after the thesauri were not returned to the Academic Library by a reader.

In the Library of the University of Amsterdam copies of the Thesauri anatomici are still present.

First results of the research

An international research group took to making pairs out of the descriptions and the preparations. This proved more complicated then expected because distinguishing plants and animals, placed by Ruysch together with a specimen in one bottle turned out to have been removed since. The first results of preparations with their matching descriptions are shown here at this site.

The researchers added an index to the descriptions, made a transcription to make them searchable and wrote short introductions about Ruysch.