Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Frederik Ruysch: Vene, vidi et judica nil tuis oculis

I first encountered the works of Frederik Ruysch at the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health's amazing Dream Anatomy website with this startling image:

Alle de ontleed- genees- en heelkindige werken...van Fredrik Ruysch . . . . Vol. 3
Amsterdam, 1744. Etching with engraving. National Library of Medicine.
Frederik Ruysch

The brief description on the page only deepened the enigmatic nature of the piece:

Ruysch festooned infant skeletons with various objects, organic and non-organic, and arranged them in landscapes of body parts.

Alle de ontleed- genees- en heelkindige werken...van Fredrik Ruysch... vol. 3
Amsterdam, 1744. Etching with engraving. National Library of Medicine.
Frederik Ruysch
More description:

Ruysch’s "repository of curiosities" included displays of infant and fetal skeletons, placed in landscapes of human and animal body parts. This ghastly musicale is notable for its morbid whimsy.

"Festooned infant skeletons?" "Landscapes of body parts?" "Ghastly musicale?" Who was this gentleman, Frederick Ruysch?

The always enlightening Wikipedia indicated that:

Frederik Ruysch (March 23, 1638 - February 22, 1731) was a Dutch doctor and anatomist, remembered for his developments in anatomical preservation and the creation of dioramas or scenes incorporating human parts. [...]

He built up a "repository of curiosities" and later sold it to Peter the Great for a reported 30,000 guilders. He immediately began anew and this collection was sold to another royal after his death. While some of his preserved collections remain, none of his scenes have survived. They are only known through a number of engravings, notably those by Cornelius Huyberts.
Further Googling took me to The Zymolglyphic Museum which has some more etchings and a brief biography similar to the above. There was, however, a bit more:

A second arena of creativity for Ruysch was creating natural history assemblages to decorate the tops of jars of preserved animal specimens. None of these assemblages or the dioramas are known to have survived to the present day. However, Ruysch had a third medium, which was the preservation of decorated babies in jars. The story of these works and haunting photographs by Rosamond Purcell are found in "Finders, Keepers: Treasures and Oddities of Natural History".

Following up on this, I found the Kunstkamera site which contained a few of these babies in jars.

The collection of F. Ruysch:
Undivided twin, one is the parasite of the second's body.

The Kunstkamera site also supplied more biographical information:

In 1717, while in Amsterdam, the tsar bought another large collection, that of Frederik Ruysch.

Tsar Peter I attended Frederik Ruysch's anatomical lessons in the winter of 1697 - 1698. These classes were given at the anatomical theatre in Amsterdam's Weight House for several days in succession, until the cadaver began to decompose.

Frederik Ruysch also devised a way to conserve parts of the body for longer periods. He created wet and dry preparations by injecting the blood and lymph vessels with a special liquid of secret composition.

"See for yourself", was his motto. In other words: not to believe anything based on another's authority, without having seen it with one's own eyes. The motto in his guest book was "Vene, vidi et judica nil tuis oculis" (Come, see and judge, believe only your own eyes).

The collection of F. Ruysch:
Child's head.

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