Biography of Willem Vrolik
Willem Vrolik was the son of the physician Gerardus Vrolik (1775-1859), professor at the Amsterdam Athenaeum Illustre, the forerunner of the university, where Vrolik commenced his medical studies. He continued his training at the University of Utrecht, where he received a prize for an essay written in Latin on the hearing mechanism in animals and man. He completed his studies in Paris and qualified in medicine in 1823.
Vrolik then settled in Amsterdam, practicing medicine and concerning himself with studies in comparative anatomy. In 1828, at the age of 27 years, he became professor extraordinary of anatomy and physiology at the University of Groningen. In 1830 he was commissioned into the Dutch army and took part in the campaign against Belgium. In 1831, the year Belgium gained its independence after having been successively under Spain, the Habsburgs, France, and the Netherlands, Vrolik accepted a call to a chair of anatomy and surgery at his alma mater, the Amsterdam Athenaeum, where he spent the next 32 years. He was also entrusted the teaching of physiology, natural history, zoology and forensic medicine.
The Athenaeum contained a noted collection of anatomical specimens, especially skulls, which had been acquired by his father and bore his name. Vrolik documented the collection and added many specimens, thereby gaining an international reputation for the museum and for himself. After Willem's death the collection was threatened with a public sale, but luckily was acquired in its entirety by a committee of citizens in 1869. The collection was handed over to the municipality of Amsterdam and placed in the Anatomical Laboratories of the Athenaeum Illustre. There have been several subsequent additions to the collection. The private collections of Jacobus Hovius (1710-1786), a collection of pathological bones shown in a fine 18th century cabinet), and Grevers (a dental collection) were gifts to the museum. Further additions include some animal specimens, anatomical and embryological, used for teaching and research. Since 1994, 150 specimens of congenital malformations have been exhibited. In this way, together with the guidebook, a view of the dysmorphology is given. The Museum Vrolik is in the Department of Medicine in Academic Medical Centre.
Vrolik's main research interests were in the fields of comparative anatomy and pathological anatomy. He used specimens from the Vrolik collection as a basis for an extensive review of mammalian and human teratology He received international recognition for this work, including the Monthyon prize from the French Academy of Science.
Vrolik was a devout Christian and a deacon of the Lutheran Church. His wife, Theodora Cornelia van Doorn, bore two sons and five daughters; sadly the latter all died in early childhood. Towards the end of his career Vrolik's health began to fail and he resigned from his chair in 1863, dying in Amsterdam in the same year.
In zoology he published various highly appreciated works on the chimpanzee (1841), Hyperoodon (1847), and Manatus americanus (1852). He also wrote the article Quadrumana in Robert Bentley Todd, et al: The Cyclopaedia of Anatomy and Physiology (5 volumes. London, 1836-1859).
With Herman Christian van Hall (1801-1874) and Gerard Johann Mulder (1812-1880) he founded the journal Bijdragen tot de natuurkundige wetenschappen, published 1826-1834.