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Ruysch, Frederik

1. Dates
Born: The Hague, 23 March 1638
Died: Amsterdam, 22 Feb. 1731
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 93
2. Father
Occupation: Government Official
Hendrik Ruysch, from an old and notable family prominent in public positions until the war of liberation in the 16th century had brought about a serious decline in their fortunes. Hendrik was a secretary in the service of the state, but it is clear that his position was not high. Hendrik died while Frederik was still young.
The economic status of the family is not made explicit. Frederik did attend the equivalent of grammar school, but he was apprenticed rather than being sent to university. It appears to me that the family was poor.
3. Nationality
Birth: Dutch
Career: Dutch
Death: Dutch
4. Education
Schooling: Leiden, M.D. 1664
On his own, Ruysch enrolled in Leiden in 1661. He received the M.D. in 1664. As usual, I assume the equivalent of a B.A., but it appears especially clear here that one could pursue an M.D. without a B.A.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Calvinist (assumed)
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Anatomy
Subordinate: Botany
Early in his career Ruysch was an eager student of anatomy, who made his name by demonstrating the existence of valves in the lymphatic vessels.
He was named Praelector of Anatomy for the surgeon's guild of Amsterdam in 1665 and held the position until his death.
Ruysch was always basically an anatomist who was unsurpassed in preparing specimens. He even built and maintained a museum of corpses prepared according to the method he developed; he ultimately sold the collection to Peter the Great, and immediately began assembling another.
As Professor of Botany at the Athenaeum Illustre (in Amsterdam) he gave regular lectures to the surgeons and apothecaries, and he published a description of the rare plants in the garden.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine, Scientific Society, Government
Secondary: Apothecary, Academia, Schoolmastering
He was apprenticed as a boy to an apothecary; he opened his own shop in 1661 and was admitted to the guild that year. He maintained the shop through his university education.
1664, with the M.D. he set up practice in The Hague.
1665, appointed Praelector of Anatomy for the Surgeon's Guild of Amsterdam, where he moved in 1667. He held this position until his death. The duties included public dissections.
1668, city examiner of midwives in Amsterdam.
1672, city obstetrician in Amsterdam, a position he held until 1712.
1679, physician to the court of justice in Amsterdam, reporting on persons wounded in robberies or quarrels.
1685, Professor of Botany at the Atheneum Illustre (which I am treating as the equivalent of a university chair). He gave private lessons in anatomy to foreign students.
He built up a great collection of anatomical preparations (in effect corpses embalmed according to his method), which he ultimately sold to Peter the Great for 30,000 guilders. He assembled another that was sold after Ruysch's death to the King of Poland for 20,000 guilders.
8. Patronage
Types: Government Official, City Magistrate
The States General of The Netherlands commissioned him to prepare the corpse of an English admiral killed in the second Dutch war; they rewarded him handsomely for the work.
All of those appointments in Amsterdam could not have happened without patronage of some sort.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Instruments
I class as instrumentation Ruysch's method of preparing anatomical specimens; he kept the method secret during his life but passed it on at death.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Academia Leopoldina, Royal Society, Académie Royal des Sciences
Leopoldina in 1705.
Royal Society in 1720.
Foreign member of the Académie (replacing Newton) in 1727.
He was in addition a close friend of Boerhaave.
  1. Fontenelle, "Eloge," Histoire de l'Académie, 1731.
  2. A.T. Hazen, "Johnson's Life of Frederik Ruysch," Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine, 7 (1939), 324-34.
  3. A.M. Luydendijk-Elshout, introduction to the 1964 facsimile edition of Ruysch, Dilucidatio valvularum in vasis lymphaticis et lacteis.
  4. Nieuw Nederlandsch Biographisch Woordenboek, 3.
  5. G.A. Lindeboom, Dutch Medical Biography.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. V.F. Schreiber, introduction to Ruysch's Opera Omnia (1721).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

©1995 Al Van Helden
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