‘The Ears of Men are but small, semicircular and neatly fram’d and fashioned with various Protuberances and Concavities, in which the sound being receiv’d together with the Air, it does not presently slip out again, but stops a little, and is somewhat broken, to the end that thence it may the more directly, and with less Violence, enter the innermost Caverns of the Ear’.
Ysbrand van Diemerbroeck, The Anatomy of Human Bodies … Translated … by William Salmon (London, 1689), p. 463.
Giulio Cesare Casseri, De vocis auditusque organis historia anatomica singulari fide methodo ac industria concinnata tractativus duobus explicata ac variis iconibus aere excusis illustrata … (Ferrara, 1601), Tab III, opposite p. 23: the organs of the ear.
Giulio Cesare Casseri (fl, 1552–1616), incorporated two treatises in his celebrated anatomical work, De vocis auditusque organis historia anatomica (Ferrara, 1601). The first was on the organs of the voice and respiration, and the second focused on the organs of hearing, the ear. As Riva et al. note, both were organized similarly, beginning with the anatomy of the organ in an adult, then describing it in a fetus, and finally comparing it to other animals. Both texts contained wonderful illustrations. As Casseri stated, in the case of De aure auditionis organo, the illustrations were the work of the Swiss-German painter Josias Murer (1564-1630).
Ysbrand van Diemerbroeck, Anatome corporis humani, plurimis novis inventis instructa variisque observationibus … adornata (Geneva, 1679), Tab XII: how the ear works.
Worth owned a host of anatomical textbooks, many of which are explored in the teaching section of this online exhibition, which focuses on the main anatomical centres of excellence, such as Padua, Paris, Leiden and Copenhagen. However, he also collected textbooks by professors based elsewhere in Europe and among these was Ysbrand van Diemerbroeck (1609–74), a professor of medicine and anatomy at the University of Utrecht. Van Diemerbroeck is not only famous in his own right but also because he taught the short-lived but prolific anatomical writer Reinier de Graaf (1641–73), whose works on the pancreas and the organs of generation are explored elsewhere in this exhibition. Van Diemerbroeck was famous for his work on the plague at Nijmegen in 1635–6 and Worth owned a 1721 edition of his treatise on his experiences there: Tractatus copiosissimus de peste (Geneva, 1721). This work forms part of Worth’s extensive collection of plague tracts, but Diemerbroek’s anatomical textbook, originally published at Utrecht in 1672, proved to be another best-seller, being reprinted in Latin a number of times, with two English editions (in 1679 and 1694), and one French edition at Lyon (in 1695). Worth owned the 1679 Latin edition printed at Geneva.
Van Diemerbroeck explains the above image as follows: Figure 1 was ‘The External Ear whole with the Muscles and Concavities’; Figure II show ‘The Skin with the Muscles drawn upwards’; Figure III displayed ‘The Fore-part of the Inside Ear’; Figure IV included, among other things, ‘A Portion of the Auditors Passage’; Figure V concentrated on ‘The Muscles of the Inside Ear’; Figure VI, looked again at the ‘Auditory Passage’; Figure VII devoted itself to ‘The Stony Bone, with the small Bones of the Tympanum, in Place’; Figure VIII showed ‘Four little Bones out of place’; Figure IX ‘The lower Face of the Bone of the Temples’, while Figure X shows the Cochlea , which Van Diemerbroeck noted was ‘so called from its resemblance to the Periwincle Shell’; Figure XI looked at the bones of the temple; Figure XII looked at the bones and nerves of the ear; Figure XIII concentrated, among other things, on the ‘Auditory Nerve’; in Figure XIV the ‘Shell, Drum, Hammer and Stirrup’ were depicted; in Figure XV focused in on ‘The Stirrup’ while Figure XVI again looked at both the ‘Stirrup’ and the ‘Hammer’. The hammer, the anvil and the stirrup are the three tiny bones of the middle ear.
Giulio Cesare Casseri, De vocis auditusque organis historia anatomica singulari fide methodo ac industria concinnata tractativus duobus explicata ac variis iconibus aere excusis illustrata … (Ferrara, 1601), Tab IIII.
As Riva et al. state, Casseri’s examination of the ear noted the structure of the auricle and described the middle ear, as well as marking the difference between the temporal bone in adults and a fetus. While the text undoubtedly was a major contribution to early modern understanding of the human ear, it omitted a consideration of the role played by the Eustachian tube in aerating the middle ear. Bartholomeo Eustachi’s (d. 1574) discovery of the pharyngotympanic tube, among his other discoveries such as the adrenal glands, had been accurately illustrated in wonderful plates in his Tabula anatomicae, which he had completed in 1552, but unfortunately it was not published until 1714 and thus was unavailable to Casseri. Worth owned a copy of Eustachi’s Opuscula anatomica (Leiden, 1707), which includes his depiction of a kidney.
‘When I was cleaning a preparation of a skeleton, an ossicle chanced to fall out of the ear. I opened the auditory organ in a fresh skull and found that ossicle, as well as another, and described the matter as it then appeared to me’.
—Vesalius in a letter to Fallopius, Venice, 1564.
The delicate structures in the wet specimen below are the auditory ossicles (little bones) illustrated in Van Diemerbroeck’s figure VIII of ‘four little bones out of place’ above. Their names refer to the shapes they resemble; malleus (hammer), incus (anvil), and tapes (stirrup), and sequentially connect the tympanic membrane (ear drum) to the inner ear canal. Because of their minuscule size and fragility, nineteenth-century anatomists regarded their successful dissection and preservation as a mark of great skill.
Vesalius is thought to have been the first to describe the malleus and incus, but he missed the stapes, thus omitting in the first two editions of the Fabrica. Sicilian anatomist Filippo Ingrassia (1510-1580), found it in 1546 in a manner similar to that of Vesalius:
‘I was cutting the bones of the ear with hammer and chisel so that I might display the internal cavernules and the substances contained in them to my students who were standing about, and when I had demonstrated the first two ossicles, by chance— how, I don’t know— I observed that third ossicle lying on the surface of the table.’
Dissection of the ear ossicles of an adult; malleus, tapes, incus, and tympanic membrane. Prepared by Daniel John Cunningham, late 19th century. Courtesy of the Old Anatomy Museum, School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin.
To account for their scale, medical educators favoured enlarged depictions of the ear structures in models and illustration. This polychrome plaster model of the bony labyrinth of the inner ear canal, possibly made by Bock Steger of Leipzig, shows the organic shapes of the anatomy, with the vasculature represented in elegant hand-painted blue vessels. The size of the model would allow students to see it from the back of a crowded anatomy lecture theatre.
Plaster model showing the structure of the inner ear at a large scale, 19th century. Courtesy of the Old Anatomy Museum, School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin.
The bony labyrinth is the osseous outer layer of the inner ear canal. It consists of the vestibule, semi-circular canals and cochlea. The inner layer of the bony labyrinth is the membranous labyrinth which contains the sense organs for balance and hearing.
Text: Dr Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian of the Edward Worth Library, Dublin, and Ms Evi Numen, Curator of the Old Anatomy Museum, Trinity College Dublin.
George, Tom, and Bruno Bordoni, ‘Anatomy, Head and Neck, Ear Ossicles’, StatPearls Publishing (2021).
O’Malley, C. D., and E. Clarke, ’The Discovery of the Auditory Ossicles’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 35, no. 5 (1961), 419–41.
Persaud, T.V.N., A History of Anatomy. The Post-Vesalian Era (Springfield, 1997).
Riva, Alessandro et al., ‘Iulius Casserius (1552–1616): The self-made anatomist of Padua’s Golden Age’, Anatomical Record (New Anat.), 265 (2001), 168–75.
Stool, S. E. et al., ‘Adam Politzer, otology and the Centennial Exhibition of 1876’, The Laryngoscope, 85, no. 11 pt 1 (1975), 1898-904.
Van Diemerbroeck, Ysbrand, The Anatomy of Human Bodies … Translated … by William Salmon (London, 1689).
 This translation is not in the Edward Worth Library. Instead, Worth owned a Latin edition printed at Leiden in 1679.
 Riva, Alessandro, et al., ‘Iulius Casserius (1552–1616): The self-made anatomist of Padua’s Golden Age’, Anatomical Record (New Anat.), 265 (2001), 170.
 Van Diemerbroeck, Ysbrand, The Anatomy of Human Bodies … Translated … by William Salmon (London, 1689), p. 468. This English edition is not in the Worth Library.
 Riva, Alessandro, et al., ‘Iulius Casserius (1552–1616): The self-made anatomist of Padua’s Golden Age, 171.
 Persaud, T.V.N., A History of Anatomy. The Post-Vesalian Era (Springfield, 1997), p. 193.
 O’Malley, C. D., and E. Clarke, ‘The Discovery of the Auditory Ossicles’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 35, no. 5 (1961), 426.
 George, Tom, and Bruno Bordoni, ‘Anatomy, Head and Neck, Ear Ossicles’, StatPearls Publishing (2021).
 O’Malley, C. D. and E. Clarke, ‘The Discovery of the Auditory Ossicles’, 429–30.