Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Georg Bartisch c.(1535-1606) was not a physician himself but he was an apprentice to an oculist, a surgeon and a lithotomist and in the custom of the day, he became a travelling surgeon.

Treating eye patients in marketplaces with a combination of scientific knowledge and folkloric remedies (the caption for the first image above is 'witchcraft' - captions are in the image URLs) Bartisch established a good reputation and was eventually appointed oculist to the Saxony Duke, Augustus I.

The special knowledge he gained was recorded in his magnum opus, Oφθαλμοδουλεια [Ophthalmodouleia or Eye-Service] for which Bartisch sketched all the illustrations. The 91 fullpage woodcuts by Hans Hewamaul became 107 illustrations with the inclusion of 2 paper-flap anatomical atlases.

Despite containing some level of superstition, Ophthalmodouleia was a landmark publication, establishing opthalmology as a true specialty with the systematic presentation of anatomy, disease and surgery. It was published in 1583 - paid for by Bartisch - in a German vernacular so that the common people would be able to read it.

It is somewhat ironic that the first comprehensive treatise on eyes has been poorly digitized with only low resolution visual images available on the internet.

It was translated into english and re-released in 1996, with all the illustrations intact, as part of a History of Opthalmology series by Julius Hirschberg [click on 'index' for each category - gives a rough outline of the history of medicine relating to the eye - there 's a picture here from the Nuremburg Chronicle of 1493: the first ever depiction of spectacles, just by the by].


Anonymous said...

I guess these images weren’t meant to be terrifyingly weird, but they certainly are to me!

peacay said...

Well, I was aiming for weird certainly, but I thought I left the most terrifying at the website.

Having to illustrate a surgical manual showing how to tie someone down is a little disconcerting. I kept wondering about the 'anaesthetics' of the 16th century - now that's terrifying!

peacay said...

At the request of Suzanne Porter, Curator of the History of Medicine Collections at Duke University Medical Center Library, please note the following:

**The proper citing of the repository of Bartisch's book is: Duke University Medical Center Library, Trent Collection, History of Medicine Collections, Durham, North Carolina.

**The Duke University Medical Center copy of Opthalmodouleia is one of only 3 copies in existence that includes contemporary hand colouring - the colouring in all 3 are the same so they were coloured at the time of printing under supervision using patterns, and not later on.

**The digitized images provided on Duke University Medical Center's website of Opthalmodouleia come from photographs taken by George O.D. Rossenwasser, MD.

**If any of these images are used or displayed anywhere else, please ensure that the full name of the institution and photographer's details appear alongside them.

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