Frederik Ruysch and His Thesaurus Anatomicus
A Morbid Guide
256 pp., 8 x 10 in, 85 color illus.
- Published: September 20, 2022
- Published: September 20, 2022
A lavishly illustrated guide to the magnum opus of the great seventeenth-century anatomist, master embalmer, artist, and collector of specimens.
Frederik Ruysch (1638–1731) was a celebrated Dutch anatomist, master embalmer, and museologist. He is best remembered today for strange tableaux, crafted from fetal skeletons and other human remains, that flicker provocatively at the edges of science, art, and memento mori. Ruysch exhibited these pieces, along with hundreds of other artful specimens, in his home museum and catalogued them in his lavishly illustrated Thesaurus Anatomicus. This book offers the first English translation of Ruysch's guide to his collection, along with all the illustrations from the original volume, photographs of some his most imaginative extant specimens, and more.
Ruysch was at once a brilliant scientist, a preternaturally gifted technician, an esteemed physician, a religious moralizer, and an artist whose prime form of expression was the medium of human remains. His works were sometimes described as “Rembrandts of anatomical preparation”; today they seem so strange that we can hardly believe that they even existed, much less that they were so popular in their time. His combination of the religious and the scientific, the painstakingly accurate and the extravagantly fantastical, offers vivid testimony of an era in which science overlapped seamlessly with religion and art. Essays accompanying Ruysch's text and images consider such topics as the historical context of Ruysch's work, the paradox of an artist of death whose work engenders the illusion of life, the conservation of Ruysch's specimens, and the shifting ascendancies of romanticism and rationality in the natural sciences.
Stephen Asma, Philippe Comar, Eleanor Crook, Laurens de Rooy, Joanna Ebenstein, Richard Faulk, Luuc Kooijmans, Willem J. Mulder, Bert van de Roemer
“A true masterpiece that persists at capturing the reader's attention in the most imaginative ways possible. The book's amazing images and anatomical sculptures certainly make the history of science significantly more visually spectacular.”
John Troyer, Director of the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath; author of Technologies of the Human Corpse
“The macabre and fantastical tableaux of Frederik Ruysch are among the strangest and most exquisite creations in the history of anatomy. In this lavish and much-anticipated volume, Joanna Ebenstein and her collaborators bring exuberant scholarship to bear on their history, their artistry, their science, and their multiple meanings, and present us with the first English translation of Ruysch's own guide to the wonders of his collection.”
Mike Jay, author of The Influencing Machine
"This is an astonishing book, which is both a wonderful artistic and scientific treat."
“The new translation is buttressed with essays from Ebenstein's expert collaborators—anatomical practitioners, curators, historians of art and science—and a generous, if challenging, selection of images, featuring engravings of the famous tableaux and photographs of the original cabinets and surviving wet specimens in their jars. All these combine to resurrect Ruysch's collection and to recover a sense of his idiosyncratic curatorial style: a combination of anatomically precise annotations and wistful memento mori epitaphs, seasoned with P.T. Barnum levels of boosterism and denunciations of his rival anatomists.”
New York Review of Books