Swanenburg, Willem van Dutch (1580-1612)

Anatomical Theater


Reference Type:
Artwork
Year:
1610
Notes/Description:
One of the earliest anatomy theaters in Europe was established in 1584 at Leiden University (Leiden, The Netherlands). A reconstruction of the space can be seen today in the Museum Boerhaave. Many human and animal skeletons were on display throughout the theater, which was open to the public in summer when dissections did not occur. References to religion were on display as well, most prominently the figures of Adam and Eve with the tree in the foreground. Also, banners held by other skeletons remind human beings of their mortality—for example, one of them says “we are dust and shadow,” while another states “memento mori,” advising us to remember that death will come. Anatomical demonstrations were only possible when a body became available—at this time usually the corpse of a hanged criminal. Since the Leiden authorities did not particularly care to turn over bodies for this purpose, anatomy lessons did not happen very often. When one did, it was an important event that warranted the cancelling of all other classes. The cost of admission was fifteen five-cent pieces—not a lot of money at the time, but expensive enough so that only the well-off could afford to attend. Professors sat in the first row with attending dignitaries, with surgeons and students of all disciplines behind. These events were both scientific and religious in nature in the sense that knowledge of anatomy led one closer to understanding God’s plan regarding human beings’ place in His creation. The fact that no student notes have survived from these events implies that the main goal was not medical education but a more philosophical discussion. Notes by Mariann Smith
Keywords:
Art
Art of Medicine
Anatomy
History of Medicine
Collection:
Special Collections, Leiden University Library