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. It contains objects from the collection of 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 Disease. The 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. There 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,
and three monkeys.
Bleuland was especially interested in pathological specimens such as this young child with hydrocephalus.
But we also see the tools of his trade as a physician and teacher, including surgical tools
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.
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.