Saturday, March 21, 2009

Frederik Ruysch

Mentioned in my last post was Frederik Ruysch (1638-1731), a Dutch botanist and anatomist known for his preservation of wet specimens in liquor balsamicum and for his tableaux (pictured here). The public was invited to view his anatomical collection, five rooms of which were open two days a week. It was at his museum in 1697 that Ruysch and Peter the Great met and found they had many common interests. In fact, it was Ruysch who taught Peter I how to pull teeth! On the czar's second visit in 1717, he convinced Ruysch to part with his collection of curiosities for 30,000 guilders, but Ruysch wouldn't help with the packing. He immediately began amassing a new repository, sold after his death. While a number of Ruysch's specimens survive, these dioramas did not. They are only known through the detailed engravings by Cornelius Huyberts (1669-1712). Ruysch created about a dozen of them, with themes of vanity and the brevity of life. What appear to be rocks are kidney- and gallstones; the trees are injected and hardened arteries and veins; the bushes are preserved lung and other organ tissue; the worms and snakes are intestines; and the handkerchiefs held by the fetal skeletons are abdominal membranes.

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