Organs of Generation

Organs of Generation

‘THE preparation of the Instruments of Generation, is no less in the Body of Women, than it is in the Body of Men, for there are those by which the Seed is produced, and mixed with the Seed of Man being produced, and stirred up for the Generation of the Child; such as regard the Seminal matter are the preparing vessels, the Testicles, the perfecting vessels to which those that cast it out are joyned The Womb is for the Conception of the Child’.

                        Johann Vesling, The anatomy of the body of man (London, 1653), p. 26.[1]

Reinier de Graaf, Opera omnia (Leiden, 1677), Tabula prima, opposite p. 165.

Reinier de Graaf (1641–73) is known not only for his exploration of the secretions of the pancreatic duct (discussed in Organs of Digestion), but also for his work on the male and female reproductive organs. Indeed, as Ankun et al relate, he is regarded as the founder of modern reproductive biology.[2] He published Tractus de virorum organis generationi inservenientibus (Leiden, 1668), his treatise on the male reproductive system in 1668, and four years later his even more famous discussion of the female reproductive system, De Mulierum Organis Generationi Inserventientibus (Leiden, 1672), appeared. These were combined in his collected works (along with his other publications) and were collected by Worth in a 1677 Leiden edition of his Opera omnia. De Graaf’s works were only the most famous of the texts concerning human reproduction which Worth owned. He likewise had William Cowper’s description of the musculature of the penis, and many texts by the ‘father of microbiology’, Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723), whose ground-breaking work on spermatozoa revolutionised early modern understanding of reproduction.

Text: Dr Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian of the Edward Worth Library, Dublin.


Ankum, W.M., H.L. Houtzager and O.P. Bleker, ‘Reinier De Graaf (1641–1673) and the Fallopian tube’, Human Reproduction Update, 2, no 4 (1996), 365–69.

Persaud, T.V.N., A History of Anatomy. The Post-Vesalian Era (Springfield, 1997).

Stolberg, Michael, ‘A Woman Down to Her Bones. The Anatomy of Sexual Difference in the Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries’, Isis, 94, no. 2 (2003), 274–99.

Thiery, M., ‘Reinier De Graaf (1641–1673) and the Graafian follicle’, Gynaecol. Surg., 6 (2009), 189–91.

[1] This English translation by Nicholas Culpeper of Johann Vesling’s Syntagma anatomicum is not in the Worth Library. Worth did, however, have two Latin editions of the work: a Frankfurt 1641 and a Padua 1647 edition, which are discussed elsewhere in this online exhibition.

[2] Ankum, W.M., H.L. Houtzager and O.P. Bleker, ‘Reinier De Graaf (1641–1673) and the Fallopian tube’, Human Reproduction Update, 2, no. 4 (1996), 365.

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