Het Theatrum Anatomicum

Rupp, J. C.


The theatrum anatomicum: a public-communicative fossil or an archetype? Public anatomy theatres are seen as the earliest form of popularizing medical science. In the seventeenth-century Netherlands they functioned as civic cultural centres, where, in wintertime, professors of anatomy presented anatomical demonstrations to a large and varied audience. During the remainder of the year, the theatre was a museum of naturalia and artificialia, while it was also a meeting-place for scientists and artists. Although the anatomy lesson possibly was a moral-philosophical lesson about the relativity and fragility of the earthly existence rather than a public lesson in medicine, its sustained tradition certainly advanced the status and the development of the medical profession, and bred curiosity about medical insights in large sections of the population. Institutional aspects of this history, such as regulations and public accountability for ongoing medical experimentation, are still worth considering when designing current medical education.