An Anatomy Cabinet

Utrecht, Netherlands, July 2019

Among the many delights for a historian of medicine like me at the University Museum in Utrecht is a reconstructed anatomy cabinet from the late eighteenth century.  museumIt contains objects from the collection of Jan Bleuland (1756-1838),

Jan Bleuland
Jan Bleuland (1756-1838)

professor of medicine and “rector magnificus” of the University.  Domenico Bertoloni Meli discussed Bleuland and his collections in his recent book, Visualizing DiseaseThe display at the museum offers a sampling of what must have been a very large collection; two manuscript catalogues, from 1795 and 1816 survive, both digitized by Utrecht University Library, as well as a printed catalogue from 1826, also digitized, which is nearly 400 pages long.  It includes preserved specimens in jars, anatomical models, and lots of skeletons.

Among the items in jars of alcohol is this “beaded baby,” a human fetus draped in beads. Timg_20190630_153928618.jpghere are many more examples of this kind of preparation in Amsterdam and especially Leiden.  In a 2015 article Marieke Hendriksen unraveled the tangled colonial history of these preparations.

Human and animal skeletons abound in this collection: here is a shelf of animal skulls, IMG_20190630_152412109

and three monkeys. IMG_20190630_152924151 

Bleuland was especially interested in pathological specimens such as this young child with hydrocephalus. IMG_20190630_152551921

But we also see the tools of his trade as a physician and teacher, including surgical tools

Surgical tools, including drills for trepanation and scarification blades for surgical bloodletting.






and the elaborate papier-mâché anatomical models by Louis Auzoux (1797-1880).  This model of the eye can be entirely disassembled to show the internal parts.  IMG_20190630_153735897

The eighteenth-century physician was, in this age before specialization, an anatomist, a naturalist, and a collector, as well as, in this case, a teacher.  Bleuland’s cabinet allows us a glimpse of this world before medicine became modern.


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