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Swammerdam, Jan

1. Dates
Born: Amsterdam, 12 Feb. 1637
Died: Amsterdam, 17 Feb. 1680
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 43
2. Father
Occupation: Pharmacist
An apothecary.
He is described as "well established." His famous collection of natural curiosities, together with the financial details of Swammerdam's life, surely confirm that he was at the least affluent.
3. Nationality
Birth: Dutch
Career: Dutch
Death: Dutch
4. Education
Schooling: Leiden, M.D.
After a period of wandering in the Netherlands, observing nature, he enrolled (at the relatively advanced age of 24) in Leiden to study medicine. I assume a B.A. or the equivalent. M.D. in 1667.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Clearly Calvinist.
His father wanted him to prepare for the ministry.
For several years in the late 70's, Swammerdam was a follower of the mystic Antoinette Bourignon. I cannot see that this has any consequence for categories here.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Entomology, Anatomy, Microscopy
Subordinate: Physiology, Zoology, Embriology
I had not understood the extent of Swammerdam's commitment to and contribution to anatomy. For example, he discovered the valves in the lymphatic vessels.
So, to a lesser extent, for physiology. His work on respiration was partly physiological.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Personal Means (I.E., His Father)
Secondary: Patronage
There is no evidence whatever that Swammderdam ever practiced medicine.
His father supported him through the whole period of his scientific work. However, the father was increasingly frustrated and annoyed with a son who had prepared for a proper career and would not pursue it. There is a fine passage in Boerhaave's sketch of Swammerdam that expresses this feeling, an assertion in effect of the uselessness of scientific research.
In 1677, the father, now an old man, closed up his house in Amsterdam and left Swammerdam with an allowance of 200 guilders per annum, which was only about half what Swammerdam was convinced he needed. However, before the situation became acute, father died in 1678, leaving Swammerday easily enough to live on.
8. Patronage
Types: Aristocracy, Magistrates, Scientist
Aristocracy appears to be the best category for Thévenot about whom I am having trouble finding information. In the strict sense he was not apparently an aristocrat, but he was very wealthy and lived like an aristocract, including a country estate. Sometimes he held governmental positions; but the wealth appears to have been inherited and more the cause of the appointments than the effect of them. At any rate, he met Swammerdam in Paris about 1664, did various things to promote his studies, and never ceased to favor him. Swammerdam dedicated his first book to Thévenot. When Swammerdam's father threatened to cut off his support, Thévenot invited him to France to live, in effect, as Thévenot's client--though Swammerdam did not in the end accept.
The anatomist Van Horne in effect subsidized Swammerdam's anatomical dissections in Amsterdam in 1667.
In c.1671 Swammerdam published a sheet displaying an anatomical dissection (related to the uterus, I think), dedicated to Dr. Nicolaas Tulp. He included the sheet in his volume, Miraculum naturae, 1672. He dedicated the volume to the Royal Society.
About 1670 Conrad van Beuningen, a senator and mayor of Amsterdam obtained permission for Swammerdam to dissect the cadavers of patients who died in the city's hospitals.
Swammerdam dedicated his book on insects (1669) to the burgomasters of Amsterdam and received in return 200 guilders.
In 1668, Swammerdam rejected an offer from the Grand Duke of Tuscany to purchase Swammerdam's collection of insects if Swammerdam would move with the collection to the Tuscan court. Swammerdam refused because he did not like the life of a courtier.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Instrumentation
In addition to unbelievably fine scissors and other fine dissecting instruments that he developed for his investigations of insects, Swammerdam introduced new methods of preparing and preserving specimens, which are not exactly instruments but are close enough to fit that category.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Though not a member of any of the formal societies, Swammerdam had informal contacts. As a student, he formed close friendships with Steno and de Graaf, although the latter relation ended in a most bitter priority dispute. In France, about 1664, he participated in the circle that Thévenot gathered.
After his return to Amsterdam, Swammerdam was a vigorous member of the Collegium privatim Amstelodamense, the first organization in Amsterdam that devoted itself to anatomical science.
  1. A. Schierbeek, Jan Swammerdam (12 February 1637 - 17 February 1680). His Life and Works, (Amsterdam: Swets and Zeitlinger, 1967). An English version of the 1647 Dutch book. G.C. Gerrits, Grote nederlanders bij de opbouw her natuurwetenschappen, (Leiden, 1948), pp. 149-59). Nieuw Nederlandsch Biographisch Woordenboek. Leo Beek, Dutch Pioneers of Science, (Assen, 1985), pp. 60-9. G.A. Lindeboom, biographical sketch in The Letters of Jan Swammerdam to Melchisedec Thévenot, (Amsterdam, 1975).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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©1995 Al Van Helden
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