Journal Article

From <i>vanitas</i> to veneration: The embellishments in the anatomical cabinet of Frederik Ruysch

Gijsbert M. van de Roemer

in Journal of the History of Collections

Volume 22, issue 2, pages 169-186
Published in print November 2010 | ISSN: 0954-6650
Published online October 2009 | e-ISSN: 1477-8564 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jhc/fhp044
From vanitas to veneration: The embellishments in the anatomical cabinet of Frederik Ruysch

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The elaborate way in which the Dutch anatomist Frederik Ruysch (1638–1731) decorated and presented his anatomical cabinet has raised questions as to whether we should view him as a scientist or rather as an artist. The concept of the collection as ‘baroque monument’ or as merely ‘bizarre’ fails to acknowledge its complexity, as can be demonstrated by quantitative analyses of its contents. Furthermore, these analyses show how the nature of the embellishments changed through time and how the vanitas element gradually made way for statements about the magnificence of the human body and its Creator. In his cabinet, Ruysch juxtaposed the ‘divine embroidery’ of the body with textiles made by human hand, thereby emphasizing the existence of an intellectual entity that was responsible for the human fabric. This way of working concurred with contemporary physico-theological discourses against atheism, in which the so-called argument from design gained dominance.

Journal Article.  10362 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Exhibition Catalogues and Specific Collections ; History of Art ; Social and Cultural History

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