‘The greatest part of physiology, in medical matters, is the knowledge of the human body and its oeconomy; this is acquired from anatomy, which consists in the true perception and demonstration of the structure, motion, and use of the separate specific parts making up the whole body, and also of the whole body.’
Govard Bidloo, in a public disputation.
Anton Nuck, Adenographia curiosa et uteri foeminei anatome nova (Leiden, 1696), engraved title page.
As Andrew Cunningham has noted, in the seventeenth century the University of Leiden began to challenge the dominance of Padua in anatomical teaching. It did so by appointing gifted teachers and building up its scientific infrastructure. At the end of the sixteenth century the Theatrum Anatomicum was built. Inspired by the Padua model, it was developed by Peter Pauw (1564–1617), the first Professor of Anatomy at Leiden, who had spent some time at Padua. Added to this, in the later seventeenth century, another noted Leiden professor, Franciscus Sylvius (1614–72) had been responsible for installing the first chemical laboratory at a university. These institutions helped put Leiden on the intellectual map of the European peregrinatio academica.
As Knoeff explains, the fact that the university library moved into the same building as the Theatrum Anatomicum was no accident – for both were essential for reading the book of nature. This combination of anatomical theatre and library was not unique – in Copenhagen the theatre had actually taken over a library building – and was emblematic of the close relationship between collecting books and anatomical objects for, just as in Copenhagen, so too in Leiden, anatomical collections were linked to the anatomical theatre. It is a symbiotic relationship reflected in this online exhibition.
Over the years the anatomical collections were augmented by later professors such as Otto Heurnius (1577–1662), who succeeded Pauw in 1617, while under Heurnius’ successors Johannes van Horne (1621–70), Charles Drelincourt (1633–97), Anton Nuck (1650–92) and Govard Bidloo (1649–1713), the Theatrum Anatomicum was the venue for important anatomical demonstrations. Worth collected books by almost all of them, including two by Anton Nuck: a 1714 Leiden edition of his Operationes & experimenta chirurgica, and the above text, his Adenographia curiosa et uteri foeminei anatome nova (Leiden, 1696). Nuck is commemorated by the ‘Canals of Nuck’, an abnormal pouch of peritoneum extending into the labia majora of women, which were first described by him in 1691.
Govard Bidloo, Exercitationum anatomico-chirurgicarum decades duae (Leiden, 1708).
Worth’s principal teacher in anatomy was Govard Bidloo who had been appointed as professor of anatomy at Leiden in 1694, two years after the death of the previous occupant of the Chair, Anton Nuck. Bidloo, who had been taught by Frederik Ruysch (1638–1731) in Amsterdam, was the author of Anatomia Humani Corporis (Amsterdam, 1685), whose images were later used by William Cowper (1666–1709) in his The Anatomy of Humane Bodies (Oxford, 1698), a copy of which is in the Worth Library. Worth may well have felt that in possessing Cowper’s Anatomy he did not need Bidloo’s Anatomia, but he did own a copy of Bidloo’s Exercitationum anatomico-chirurgicarum decades duae (Leiden, 1708).
It is unknown whether during Worth’s time at Leiden Bidloo was away on one of his many absences from the university – absences which had led to complaints by students – but it seems likely that he was. He was certainly away in 1699, the year Worth travelled to Leiden. Bidloo’s absences were beyond his control – they were royal commands of William III who trusted Bidloo’s medical judgment – but they left his students in an invidious position, and Frederik Dekkers (1644–1720), appointed as professor collegii practico medici in 1697, frequently had to stand in for him. Worth owned a copy of Dekkers’ Exercitationes practicae circa medendi methodum, auctoritate, ratione, observationibusve plurimis confirmatae ac figuris illustratae (Leiden, 1694) – perhaps an indication that he was more familiar with Dekker’s teaching than he might have initially anticipated!
Andreas Vesalius, Opera omnia anatomica & chirurgica cura Hermanni Boerhaave …, & Bernardi Siegfried Albini (Leiden, 1725), i, title page.
The fame of Leiden’s teaching staff in the seventeenth century had attracted scholars from across Europe and the appointment of Herman Boerhaave (1668–1738) in 1701 ensured that Leiden became even more popular in the eighteenth century as a destination for medical students, particularly those from Northern Europe. We do not know if Worth and Boerhaave’s path’s crossed (though it is likely that they did), but one thing is clear: that Worth’s time at Leiden heavily influenced his subsequent collecting of medical texts. Significantly, his copy of De Humani Corporis Fabrica was in the two volume Leiden 1725 edition, of Vesalius’ works, Opera omnia anatomica & chirurgica cura Hermanni Boerhaave …, & Bernardi Siegfried Albini (Leiden, 1725), which had been edited by Boerhaave and Bernhard Siegfried Albinus (1697–1770). It contains Vesalius’ works, and, in addition a short history of anatomy and a life of Vesalius.
Albinus was the son of a previous professor of medicine at Leiden, Bernhard Albinus (1653-1721). As is evident at early modern Paris and Copenhagen, medical dynasties such as this were relatively common. Bernhard Siegfried was lucky that his father had moved from his teaching position at Frankfurt on der Oder to Leiden for it allowed the young Albinus the opportunity to be taught by Boerhaave before travelling to Paris to receive further instruction. Boerhaave had been so impressed by him that in 1721 he was instrumental in securing Albinus junior’s appointment to succeed Johann Jakob Rau (1668-1719), who had been professor of anatomy at Leiden University from 1713 until his death in 1719. As for Boerhaave, he is rightly honoured to this day by the wonderful Rijksmuseum Boerhaave at Leiden.
Text: Dr Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian of the Edward Worth Library, Dublin.
Cunningham, Andrew, The Anatomist Anatomis’d. An Epxerimental Discipline in Enlightenment Europe (Ashgate, 2010).
Huisman, Tim, The Finger of God: Anatomical Practice in Seventeenth-Century Leiden (Leiden, 2009).
Knoeff, Rina, ‘Herman Boerhaave at Leiden: Communis Europae praeceptor’, in Grell, Ole P., Andrew Cunningham and Jon Arrizabalaga (eds), Centres of Medical Excellence? Medical Travel and Education in Europe, 1500–1789 (Farnham, 2010).
Knoeff, Rina, ‘Dutch Anatomy and Clinical Medicine in 17th -Century Europe’, European History Online (2012).
Lindeboom, G. A., Boerhaave and Great Britain (Leiden, 1974).
 Cited in Cunningham, Andrew, The Anatomist Anatomis’d. An Epxerimental Discipline in Enlightenment Europe (Ashgate, 2010), p. 157.
 Ibid., p. 125.
 Knoeff, Rina, ‘Dutch Anatomy and Clinical Medicine in 17th -Century Europe’, European History Online (2012).
 On this see Huisman, Tim, The Finger of God: Anatomical Practice in Seventeenth-Century Leiden (Leiden, 2009).
 On Bidloo’s absences see Huisman, The Finger of God.
 On the influence of Boerhaave as a draw to Leiden see Knoeff, Rina, ‘Herman Boerhaave at Leiden: Communis Europae praeceptor’, in Grell, Ole P., Andrew Cunningham and Jon Arrizabalaga (eds), Centres of Medical Excellence? Medical Travel and Education in Europe, 1500–1789 (Farnham, 2010), pp 269–86. See also Lindeboom, G. A., Boerhaave and Great Britain (Leiden, 1974).