Indiana University Bloomington

Anatomia Animata: Anatomy and Medicine in William Harvey's Century

Experimental Techniques

While the microscope would play an important role in medical discoveries in the seventeenth century, it was by no means the sole experimental tool in use. Another method used by many leading investigators was the injection of various fluids into the vessels of the body; this was used to highlight (through the colors and contrasts produced) their routes and connections. The method was practiced extensively in the seventeenth century, as evidenced by the works displayed here.

Another important method was vivisection, or the dissection of still–living creatures. Although not practiced on humans, the technique was used on animals by a variety of seventeenth–century medical researchers. Vivisection allowed researchers to observe functions of the body, especially relating to blood flow and the beating of the heart, as they occurred.

Jan Swammerdam. Miraculum Naturæ, sive, Uteri Muliebris Fabrica ... Leiden: Apud Severinum Matthæi, 1672.

In the Miraculum, a recent acquisition of The Lilly Library, Swammerdam defended "Preformation," arguing that an egg contained all the future generations of its kind, like a series of Russian dolls one inside the other. One of the technical accomplishments of the book, however, is Swammerdam's description of the process of injecting warm, tinted wax into the vessels of the body, which successfully resulted in visibility (as illustrated in this text). Ruysch, who was also experimenting with injection, producing the preserved corpses of his collection, gave credit to Swammerdam for priority but claimed to have discovered the technique himself independently.

Frederik Ruysch. Dilucidatio Valvularum in Vasis Lymphaticis et Lacteis ... Hague: Ex Officina Harmani Gael, 1665.

Ruysch made his name early in his career by demonstrating the existence of valves in the lymphatic vessels, as described in this work. He also built and maintained a museum of corpses prepared according to the method he developed; he ultimately sold the collection to Peter the Great. Like Swammerdam, Ruysch made use of injection to study the vessels of the body. He did not claim to be the first to see them, citing his teachers as predecessors, but he also did not mention Swammerdam, who suspected Ruysch of seeing his drawings.

Regnier de Graaf. De Virorum Organis Generationi Inservientibus ... Leiden; Rotterdam: Ex Officina Hackiana, 1668.

De Graaf was the first to discover the true structure of the testicle, long considered as composed of a spongy substance. His book showed that it is actually composed of minute vessels.

Caspar Bartholin. Institutiones Anatomicae, Novis Recentiorum Opinionibus & Observationibus ... Leiden: Apud Franciscum Hackium, 1645.

One of the most influential vivisection experiments confirming Harvey's circulation of the blood was performed by the Dutch anatomist Johannes Walaeus and was announced in a letter to Bartholin. By puncturing the crural vein of a dog, Walaeus showed that the venous blood spurting out was moving towards the heart, not away from it.

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Last Updated: 1 August 2009
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