Bernhard Siegfried Albinus
Biography of Bernhard Siegfried Albinus
18: Bernhard Siegfried Albinus was the most famous son of Bernard Albinus (1653-1721), professor of medicine at Leiden. He was five years old when he moved to Leiden with his father. At the age of only twelve he entered the University of Leiden), where he frequented the lectures of Govert Bidloo (1649-1713), Johannes Jacobus Rau (1668-1719), Fredericus Dekkers (1644-1720) and Herman Boerhaave (1668-1738).
In 1718, having completed his studies, he went to Paris – on his father's demand – to study anatomy and surgery there. However, his stay in Paris did not last long, as the curatorium of the university already in 1719 called him back to Leiden (according to one of our sources, he received his medical degree in 1719 without sitting any examinations).
His return was occasioned by the long-lasting sickness of his teacher Rau. Albinus now began working as Lector anatomicae et chirurgicae, and on this occasion was conferred Doctor of medicine Honoris causa. His inaugural address in 1719 was entitled De anatome comparata.
Two years later, in 1721, his father died and Albinus, 24 years old, was appointed to succeed him as Professor anatomiae et chirurgicae ordinarius – on the recommendation of Boerhaave. He gave his inaugural address the same year: Oratio, qua in veram, viam, quae ad fabricae corporis humani cognitionem ducit, inquiritur, in which he advocates his views on the teaching of anatomy. Albinus encouraged his students to do their own studies on corpses, and also to study the works of earlier writers.
On the request of the Curatorium he produced a catalogue of the anatomical preparations bequeathed to the University by Rau. In the same year, 1725, with his colleague Boerhaave he occasioned a new publication of the complete anatomical and surgical works of Andreas Vesalius, to which Albinus wrote the introduction. It was through this project that Albinus met Jan Wandelaar (1690-1759), who had engraved the plates, and so began a lifelong collaboration.
A pupil of Rau, Albinus was an ardent advocate of lithotomy, an operation he used to demonstrate to his students on corpses.
After 25 years in the chair of anatomiae et chirurgiae, Albinus wanted to be relieved of some of his duties in order to take better care of his health. Thus, in 1745, he was appointed professor medicinae with the duty of teaching theoretical physiology. His younger brother Friedrich Bernhard (1715-1778) was then appointed Lector anatomiae et chirurgiae. Albinus contributions to physiology, however, were in no way comparable to those in anatomy.
In 1742, following the death of Friedrich Hoffmann (1660-1742), Albinus was offered the chair in Halle, and in 1753 in Göttingen. However, he remained at the University of Leiden until his death in 1770. In 1765 he married Clara Magdalene Dupeyron, a widow.
- Libellus de ossibus corporis humani. 1726.
Written as an aid in the teaching of anatomy.
- Historia musculorum corporis humani. 1734.
This too, was an aid in the teaching of anatomy.
- Tabulae selecti et musculorum corporis humani.
Lugduni Batavorum, Leiden, J. & H. Verbeek 1747.
His main work and perhaps the most important anatomical work of the 18th century. The copperplates, prepared by Jan Wandelaar, established a new standard in anatomical illustration, and remain unsurpassed for their artistic beauty and scientific accuracy. Albinus and Wandelaar began their joint work on this project as early as in 1725. The most famous plate in the atlas depicts a skeletal figure standing in front of an enormous grazing rhinoceros, sketched by Wandelaar from the first living specimen in Europe, which had arrived at the Amsterdam zoo in 1741.
The book was recently (2003) on sale for £15,500.
English translation, with new engravings of the plates:
- Tables of the skeleton and muscles of the human body. London, Knapton, 1749.
In 1757 expanded with:
- Tabulae vasis chyliferi cum vena azyga, arteriis intercostalibus, aliisque vicinis partibus.
The way the illustrations were executed brought Albinus into conflict with Petrus Camper (1722-1789).
- Tabulae vasis chyliferi cum vena azyga, arteriis intercostalibus, aliisque vicinis partibus. 1757.
An expansion of Tabulae selecti et musculorum corporis humani. 1747.