Bernhard Siegfried Albinus (Weiss) (1697-1770)
Academicarum Annotationum Vol I-IV, (1754-1758)
One of the most prolific anatomists, the German-Dutch physician Bernhard Siegfried Albinus was born in Frankfurt am Oder, Germany but later established himself as a professor of anatomy at the University of Leiden. Born in 1697 into a family of academician, his father was a professor and practicing physician at University of Frankfurt. When he was transferred to University of Leiden to become the chair of Medicine, young Bernhard found a home and a place for his education in Leiden. Among his teachers he lists the Dutch chemist, physician and botanist Herman Boerhaave (1668-1738), the originator of quantitative assessment in medicine including the use of the thermometer to determine signs of fever in disease. Albinus continued his studies at University of Paris where he met Jacob Winslow, the Danish-born anatomist who settled at the court of Louis XV and was one of the evaluators and supporter of Pierre Fauchard’s work, Le Chirurgien Dentiste. In 1721, Albinus was offered the position of rector at University of Leiden, a city where he died in 1770.
Albinus was a prolific writer. In 1719 he published, Oratio inauguralis de anatomia comparata, a comparative anatomy text. This was followed by equally impressive works in 1721, 1726, 1734, 1737 and 1767, the latter the reedition of Vesalius’ Fabrica, a collaboration with Boerhaave. His most famous work, Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humanis, was published in 1747. The work had superb copper engravings executed by the Leiden artist, Jan Wandelaer (1690-1759). His collaboration with the artist extended to other works, including the volumes in our collection.
His eight volume work entitled Academicarum annotationum was written over a period of 14 years. The first four volumes in our collection include the oral cavity and teeth and were published between 1754 (vol I.), 1755 (vol. II), 1756 (vol. III) and 1758 (vol. IV). This work includes Albinus’ studies on the anatomy and physiology of various organs, muscles, including the skull and the teeth. One should not forget that understanding anatomy and physiology in 1750s was in its infancy. For instance, the concept of innervation of muscles was poorly understood and Albinus professed that muscle fibers were entirely responsible for their own contraction without any neural input. He had arguments with the great physicians and scientists of the time, including Boerhaave and Albrecht von Haller. Nevertheless, we cannot appreciate our current knowledge without the painstaking progress, including some mistakes, scientists like Albinus have made.