‘Hypotheses are not to be imagined but have to be drawn from Nature itself’.
Thomas Bartholin, Defensio vasorum lacteorum et lumphaticorum adversus Joannem Riolanum … Accedit Cl. V. G. Harvei de venis lacteis sententia expensa ab Th. B. (Copenhagen, 1655), pp. 191–2.
Caspar Bartholin, Anatomicæ institutiones corporis humani vtriusque sexùs historiam & declarationem exhibentes, cum plurimus novis observationibus & opinionibus, nec non illustriorum, quae in anthropologia occurrunt, controversiarum decisionibus. Cum indice capitum & rerum locupletissimo (Oxford, 1633), title page.
Caspar Bartholin the Elder (1585–1629), was the father of a medical dynasty which dominated Danish anatomical studies at the University of Copenhagen for over 150 years. Caspar the Elder, his son Thomas (1616–80) and Thomas’s son Caspar the Younger (1655–1738), were the leading anatomists in Denmark, and, in the case of Thomas, highly influential elsewhere in Europe. A second son, Erasmus (1625–98), while not as famous as his family members, was likewise a professor of medicine at Copenhagen.
Caspar the Elder had initially studied theology at the University of Wittenberg but changed his mind, instead choosing to concentrate on medicine, travelling across Europe to the University of Padua, to study anatomy under Fabricius of Acquapendente (1533–1619), and Giulio Cesare Casseri (fl, 1552–1616). He later published the results of his dissections there in 1611 his Anatomicæ institutiones corporis humani, which became a popular medical textbook – Worth owned a 1633 Oxford edition. As Hill notes, in his book Caspar the Elder addressed, among other things, the subject of adrenal glands. Though offered posts in Italy, Caspar the Elder returned to Denmark in 1613, taking up the position of Professor of Medicine at the University of Copenhagen. However, a near-death experience turned his thoughts back to theology and he subsequently became Professor of Theology at Copenhagen.
Thomas Bartholin, Anatome ex omnium veterum recentiorumque observationibus inprimis institutionibus b. m. parentis Caspari Bartholini, ad circulationem Harveianam, et vasa lymphatica quartum renovata … (Leiden, 1673), portrait of Thomas Bartholin.
His son Thomas Bartholin was just as interested in peregrinatio academica and travelled widely in France (Paris and Montpellier), the Netherlands (Leiden) and Italy (Padua, Rome, Naples and Sicily), and Switzerland (Basle). Padua, where his father had studied (not to mention a number of relatives), would undoubtedly have been a major draw, and there he studied under the famous anatomist Johann Vesling (1598–1649). He is perhaps best known for his work on the lymphatic system and for his dispute with the Swedish anatomist Olof Rudbeck (1630–1702), who claimed to have discovered it himself. However, since Bartholin had published his findings before Rudbeck, the Danish scholar proved triumphant. Bartholin’s work on lymphatics led to a vociferous dispute with the renowned Parisian professor, Jean Riolan the Younger (1580–1657), a committed Galenist who viewed askance the new findings of Jean Pecquet (1622–74), and Bartholin, declaring that ‘Whoever deprives the liver of its blood making power destroys our medicine, and he had to create a new one from its foundation, because our anatomy, physiology, pathology, and treatment of diseases would be ridiculous if the liver were an idle organ stripped of its blood formation’. In Riolan the Younger’s view, ‘itching for innovation … is the disease from which Bartholin suffers’.
When he eventually returned to Copenhagen, Thomas Bartholin proved committed to furthering anatomical teaching at the University of Copenhagen and he had a major impact on his students, among whom were other distinguished Danish anatomists such as Nicolaus Steno (1638–86). Another distinguished alumnus of Copenhagen was his own son, Caspar the Younger, who, as Persaud notes, ‘described the greater vestibular glands of the female genital tracts and the duct of the sublingual salivary gland’. He was thus the first to describe the ‘Bartholin’ gland.
Thomas Bartholin, Cista Medica Hafniensis (Copenhagen, 1662), plate of the Anatomy House and Theatre in Copenhagen.
Morten Fink-Jensen rightly calls Thomas Bartholin’s tenure of Professor of Anatomy at the University of Copenhagen ‘a golden age in the history of Danish medicine’. This was not only due to his many ground-breaking publications but also because he was instrumental in developing the Anatomy House at the University of Copenhagen. The genesis for the project came in 1621, when the university acknowledged the need for an anatomical theatre, but it was delayed due to internal quarrels between the barber-surgeons and the medical faculty. However, the appointment of Simon Paulli (1603–80) as Professor of Anatomy, Surgery and Botany in 1639 revivified the plan and in the early 1640s a structure which had previously been used as a library of the university was repurposed, following the building of a new library building in 1643. The ground floor of the old library building became the anatomical theatre and, once the books were moved out from the first floor, it too was developed to house the university’s anatomical collections. Paulli announced the arrival of the ‘Domus Anatomica’ by holding the first public dissection there in Copenhagen in March 1645.
Thomas Bartholin provides the following description of the Anatomy House:
‘Through the first door, on the right, we are brought into a preparation room where corpses are made ready on a rectangular revolving table by an anatomist and his assistant. There is a stove there to prevent the dissectors’ hand being pinched by the intense winter cold, and beside this a tiny room containing a case and a table, so that the anatomist can store away his instruments, gather himself together in this out-of-the-way corner, and dress properly before a public demonstration.
The second door, adjacent to the first, faces on to a kitchen, in which bodies are washed before dissection and, once the demonstrations are ended, the flesh is stripped from their bones so that these may be united to form a skeleton. For this purpose they have to erect a huge stove to provide a fireplace, and in the corner is situated a vast copper cauldron, in which the bones are boiled. There is another door, too, which gives access from this kitchen to the preparation room; through it the corpses are carried, so that there is no need to pass across the entrance-hall with them.
The third door on the left opens into the anatomical theatre itself, and on it are inscribed these verses of Michael Kirstein:
Here, wayfarer, you see either bones or severed bodies;
Here our skill dissevers and unites the work of Nature.
The anatomical theatre or, more properly, amphitheatre is, according to the nature of the place, square, spacious and with a very high ceiling, more serviceable than splendid, surrounded on the periphery by four rows of wooden banks, gradually rising from bottom to top. The lowest benches accommodate the professor, doctors of Medicine and the more distinguished visitors. At the top, shelves are arranged for the laying of skeletons on. Each row of benches has its own seats, which can be lowered by means of hinges, to enable tired or weak spectators to relax, and raised up for those who prefer to stand. In the middle of the lecture hall for the purpose of exhibiting corpses there is a table, which can be twisted and rotated to any angle, so that every slightest occurrence to do with the body may be shown to all the viewers …’
Thomas Bartholin, Cista Medica Hafniensis (Copenhagen, 1662), engraved title page.
Paulli was honoured by Bartholin in one of the medallions of distinguished professors of the University of Copenhagen on the title page of Bartholin’s Cista Medica Hafniensis (Copenhagen, 1662). He was the son of a professor at Rostock and prior to being appointed at Copenhagen had taught there himself, having taken his medical degree at the University of Wittenberg. He is in very good company on Bartholin’s title page, for, left to right, the medallions depict the leading lights of Danish medical education. On the far left was Henrik Fuiren, a cousin and close friend of Bartholin’s. Bartholin notes in his text that the natural history collection above the theatre was called the ‘Fuiren Museum’ since its contents had been bequeathed to the Anatomy House by his ‘greatly-missed cousin, Dr Henrik Fuiren, that most eminent physician of Copenhagen’. Next was Ole Worm (1588–1654), a renowned Danish scholar and Bartholin’s guardian, after whom Thomas Bartholin named the Ossa Wormiana the Wormian bones in the skull.. In fact, as Porter notes, Worm was a son-in-law of Thomas Fincke and therefore an uncle of Thomas. At the top were Thomas Fincke (1561–1656) and Caspar Bartholin, Thomas’s grandfather and father respectively, then Paulli and finally, on the far right, Johan Rhode (1567–1659), who had studied with Thomas Bartholin in Padua. Thomas Finkce was Thomas Bartholin’s maternal grandfather and his money had helped finance the building. Thomas Bartholin himself naturally was centre stage, identified by the ribbon underneath his medallion. As Fink-Jensen relates, Bartholin did not think it a good likeness of himself. The familial connections between many of the men depicted was not unusual in early modern academia, where dynasties such as the Bartholins’ were relatively common. In fact, as Porter relates, though Caspar the Younger was the most famous of Thomas’s successors at Copenhagen, other family members such as his nephews (Holger Jacobaeus (1650–1701) and Matthias Jacobaeus (1637–88)), also became members of the medical faculty of Copenhagen.
Text: Dr Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian of the Edward Worth Library, Dublin.
Bartholin, Thomas, The Anatomy House in Copenhagen, edited by Niels W. Bruun (Copenhagen, 2015).
Hill, Robert V., ‘The contributions of the Bartholin family to the study and practice of clinical anatomy’, Clinical Anatomy, 20 (2007), 113–5.
Mani, Nikolaus, ‘Jean Riolan II (1580–1657) and medical research’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 42, no. 2 (1968), 121–44.
Persaud, T.V.N., A History of Anatomy. The Post-Vesalian Era (Springfield, 1997).
Porter, Ian Herbert, ‘Thomas Bartholin (1616–80) and Niels Stensen (1638–86) Master and Pupil,’ Medical History, 7, no, 2 (1963), 99–125.
 Translation by Nikolaus Mani in Mani, Nikolaus, ‘Jean Riolan II (1580–1657) and medical research’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 42, no. 2 (1968),140–1.
 Hill, Robert V., ‘The contributions of the Bartholin family to the study and practice of clinical anatomy’, Clinical Anatomy, 20 (2007), 113.
 Cited in Mani, Nikolaus, ‘Jean Riolan II (1580–1657) and medical research’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 42, no. 2 (1968), 134.
 Ibid., 135.
 Persaud, T.V.N., A History of Anatomy. The Post-Vesalian Era (Springfield, 1997), p. 189.
 Fink-Jensen, ‘Thomas Bartholin and the Anatomy House at the University of Copenhagen’, in Bartholin, Thomas, The Anatomy House in Copenhagen, edited by Niels W. Bruun (Copenhagen, 2015), p. 17.
 This English translation is from Bartholin, Thomas, The Anatomy House in Copenhagen, edited by Niels W. Bruun (Copenhagen, 2015), pp 55–7.
 Ibid., p. 97.
 Hill, Robert V., ‘The contributions of the Bartholin family to the study and practice of clinical anatomy’, 114.
 Porter, Ian Herbert, ‘Thomas Bartholin (1616–80) and Niels Stensen (1638–86) Master and Pupil,’ Medical History, 7, no, 2 (1963), 100.
 Bartholin, Thomas, The Anatomy House in Copenhagen, edited by Niels W. Bruun, p. 97.
 Ibid., p. 41.
 Porter, Ian Herbert, ‘Thomas Bartholin (1616–80) and Niels Stensen (1638–86) Master and Pupil,’ Medical History, 7, no, 2 (1963), 99–125.