De anatomische preparaten van Frederik Ruysch

Russian science inspired by Ruysch's specimen

Ruysch Museum in Amsterdam

Peter the Great wanted to advance the sciences in Russia in every possible manner. Therefore he built a museum in his capital with a lot of different collections. In 1718 he bought Ruysch's collection with his anatomical specimen.

In those years anatomy was not yet a science only practised at universities and academies. Everyone who was interested and had the means could engage in anatomy. This was why Frederik Ruysch established a museum in his home and exhibited his anatomical works. Reinier de Graaf and Jan Swammerdam cooperated with him.

The Anatomical Theater in the Kunstkamera

An anatomical theatre in Saint-Petersburg

In Russia the development of the sciences followed a different path. This becomes clear if you look at the Peterburgian anatomy. The anatomical theatre in Saint Petersburg was part of the Academy of Sciences and first established in the palace of princess Praskovja Fjodorovna. Professor Johann Georg Duvernois (1691-1759) from Germany was appointed to teach anatomy in this theatre.

The move to the Kunstkamera

In 1728 the anatomical theatre moved to a special new building, the Kunstkamera. Here the library, the anatomical theatre, the Gottorf Globe, an astronomical observatory and the collections were brought together. The anatomical theatre had been set up in a large round hall on the first floor of the centrally placed tower. The entrance was on the quay. In the centre of the hall there was a big dissecting-table, around which benches were placed for the audience in four rows above each other. In the cabinets round the walls stood the specimen. One floor up, directly above the theatre, stood the Gottorp Globe, above that was the observatory. Thus the tower of the building was symbol for the vertical line from the microcosm to the macrocosm.

Choose Petersburg over Paris and Amsterdam

The news of the excellent working conditions for anatomists in the Petersburg Academy, was rapidly spreading. H.F.Gross, a student, wrote from Saint Petersburg to a friend in Germany: "I am sure that if more German medical students would know about the possibilities for practical anatomical research here, they would prefer to come here, and for less money by way of Lübeck, than to go to Ruysch in Amsterdam, or to Paris.

Preparations of eyes by Frederik Ruysch

Ruysch's eyes

Duvernois demonstrated the workings of the eye-muscles of a cat, he had dissected. He dived into Ruysch's collection, and composed a catalogue of over a hundred specimen of human and animal eyes. The structure of the eyes held Duvernois' lasting attention. Astronomers and physicists at the Academy were engaged in the refraction and diffraction of light. Duvernois invited them to study his collection of eyes. The scientist studied the prepared eyes, elephant's, seal's, owl's and fly's eyes. They came to the conclusion that eyes had developed from a simpler to a more complicated form. From that day anatomical research became part of the education in optics.

The specimen in the Ruysch-collection were definitively not just museum objects. They provided the basis for scientific research and materials to educate students.

Studies into the connections between bones

ORuysch's specimen also had their impact in the field of ligaments (the connections between bones). Josias Weitbregt (1702-1747) wrote an extensive syndesmology manual, on ligaments. It was published, in Latin in 1742, in Saint Petersburg, and was translated in French and German. His articles were discussed upon in European magazines and even today his On Syndesmology remains relevant.

Anatomics employed by the Academy

The anatomists of the Kunstkamera fullfilled a task in education, did a lot of different research, prepared specimen, gave lectures and anatomical lessons using corpses at the meetings of the members of the Academy. The scientists were paid by the Academy of Sciences. The Academy itself, was completely founded by the State, an unprecedented affair in those days.

No public interest in the anatomical lessons

Peter's attempt to organize an anatomical theatre for the Boyars, did not rouse any enthousiasme. These demonstrations were to strange for the Russians. Not because the Church had them prohibited. Peter the Great had abolished the patriarch, and he himself held the highest position in the Orthodox church and he tried to promote the sciences, including anatomy. No documents from the archives survive to disclose who were the attendants of these public dissections. Probably the visitors were scientists and students. In western Europe the research into bodies and anatomy attracted a considerable cultural interest. In Russia there was no such enthusiasm for anatomy, because the country had only then, in Peter's day's encountered anatomy. In Russia anatomy did not hold the philosophical, moral, theological, or aesthetic importance it held in Western Europe. In Russia anatomy was pure a matter of science, and it would develop further in that direction.

Anna B. Radzyun, curator Anatomical collections, MAE Kunstkamera, Saint-Petersburg, Russia

Cross section of the Kunstkamera, collections on the left, library on the right, 1741