Death Defied

The Anatomy Lessons of Frederik Ruysch

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From around 1650 until well into the nineteenth century, Frederik Ruysch enjoyed international fame as an anatomist. He owed his renown to a preparation method that greatly aided early-modern scientists in their exploration of the human body and transformed dissection from a messy business into a widely admired art. Ruysch’s anatomical collection was one of Amsterdam’s tourist attractions, for his embalmed bodies were astonishingly lifelike in appearance. The visitors who gazed with amazement at his preparations included the Russian tsar Peter the Great, who was so moved by the sight of an embalmed boy that he kneeled down to kiss him. The tsar later bought Ruysch’s entire collection and had all the specimens shipped to St Petersburg, where they still attract visitors from all over the world.

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Luuc Kooijmans, PhD (1985) in History, Utrecht University, was Assistant Professor of History at the University of Amsterdam from 1986 to 1995. He is the author of Friendship and the Art of Survival in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (1997) and Love on Order: The Courtly Life of Willem Frederik van Nassau (2000). In 2004 he was awarded the Prince Bernhard Cultural Foundation Humanities Prize for his oeuvre, and in 2008 he received the Great History Prize for Dangerous Knowledge: Insight and Fear in the Days of Jan Swammerdam (Bert Bakker, 2007).

Diane Webb had a long career as a professional musician before devoting herself entirely to translation. Specialising in historical and art-historical subjects, she has translated books by H.L. Wesseling, Leonard Blussé, Maarten Prak, Geert Warnar, Arianne Baggerman and Rudolf Dekker. She was also a member of the team responsible for the new translation of the complete letters of Vincent van Gogh. For her translation of Herman Pleij’s Colors Demonic & Divine: Shades of Meaning in the Middle Ages & After she was awarded the Vondel Prize for Dutch Translation in 2005.
List of Figures
Prologue in St Petersburg

1 The Anatomy Lesson
Apothecary’s Apprentice
Anatomical Knowledge
Heroes
Examination
Family
Louis de Bils
Discoveries
Idle Boasting
Vivisection
Descartes
Research
Preservation
Secret Formulas
Doctorate
Confrontation with De Bils

2 Established and Envied
Appointment in Amsterdam
Medical Bastions
An Established Anatomist
Hardened Wax
Research
Professorship
Anatomy Lesson
Intellectuals in Power
Midwifery
Opposition
Gluttonous Tipplers

3 Under Fire
Accusations
Intimidation
Opposing Ruysch
A Nobody
New Knowledge, Old Certainties
The Insolvent Estate
Radical Supporters

4 Ruysch at Work
The Surgeons’ Guild
The Battle for Bodies
The Amsterdam Hortus Botanicus
The House on the Bloemgracht
A Private Museum
Idle Inventions
Surgery
The Workplace

5 Rivals
Perfection
Rivalry
King Stupidity
Discrediting Rivals
Malice Aforethought
Peter the Great in Amsterdam
From Brain to Scrotum
Stone-cutting
Ruysch, Rau and Bidloo

6 The Collection
Capriccio Anatomico
Specimens
Animals
Wonders
The Republic of Letters
Lessons
Deceit
Visitors
Physico-theology

7 The Return of Peter the Great
Collection for Sale
A Return Visit
Secret
The Collection Moves East

8 Reproduction
Rachel
A Dutiful Father
Hendrik Ruysch’s Lessons in Obstetrics
The Placenta
The Shaft
The Development of the Embryo
The Mystery of Reproduction

9 Latter Days
Approaching Death
Late Work
Discussion with Boerhaave
Plant Anatomy
Final Work
Father and Son

10 Ruysch’s Legacy
Possible Successors
Broken Hip
The Estate
Tradition versus Enlightenment: Titsingh and Ulhoorn
Biography
The Secret
The Preparations in the Kunstkamera

Bibliography
Index
All those interested in medical history and anatomy, as well as intellectual history, biographies and early modern history.
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