Creative anatomy

anatomische-les-van-dr--frederick-ruysch-6876There is a new virtual museum dedicated to the Amsterdammer, Dr Frederik Ruysch (1638-1731), who is regarded as one of the greatest anatomist and preserver of body-bits of all time. But he was not just content with potting parts in brine and suspending Siamese twin foetuses in solution. Artistic compulsion led him to construct moralistic panoramas of bone and tissue. He started simple: an ornate box of fly eggs labelled as being taken from the backside of ‘a distinguished gentleman who sat too long in the privey’. Another had a mounted baby’s leg kicking the skull of a prostitute. But these were tame next to his later work which oozed with baroque extravagance: gall- and kidney-stones piled up to suggest landscape, dried arteries and veins weaved into lush shrubs, testicles crafted into pottery, and these whole scenes animated with skeletal foetuses who danced and played violins strung with strings of dried gut.

anatomA visiting Peter the Great (1672-1725), who was passing through to learn shipbuilding and how to build a city on a bog (which would inspire his pet project St Petersburg) became fascinated with this collection of preserved freaks — not surprising for a seven-foot giant of a man. After kissing the forehead of a preserved baby, Peter paid Ruysch f30 000 for the complete collection and brought it all back to St Petersburg with him.

You can still get a flavour of those heady times by visiting the Waag which once served as Death Central as the place where criminals were executed and later dissected in its Theatrum Anatomicum, a spot immortalized by Rembrandt as the setting for his goriest paintings The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp (the guy who had Ruysch’s job before him). You can also check out the painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Frederick Ruysch by Jan van Neck (pictured) at the Amsterdam Historical Museum. And for another impressive collection of dead bits, be sure to visit the frolicsomely named Museum Vrolik that is located in the Amsterdam’s largest hospital and features a bona fide Cyclops in brine.

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Posted in Uncategorized 14 years, 5 months ago at 11:29 am.

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  1. Andrew Jul 20th 2010

    Thanks for the graphic and description. Where did you get the information about Peter the Great passing through in order to learn about building cities atop bogs? Was that the same source as your information abouyt Ruysch’s other work?

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