At Home in the Museum: the Collection of Frederik Ruysch

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Abstract Summary
The Dutch anatomist Dr. Frederik Ruysch is best known for his artfully embalmed anatomical specimens. Between roughly 1689 and 1731, Ruysch displayed this collection inside his family home in Amsterdam. Ruysch’s house museum attracted international attention, and became an important space for the creation and dissemination of scientific and anatomical knowledge. To date, a significant body of scholarship exists on Ruysch’s life and work: Ruysch’s specimens have been analyzed from medical, artistic, and even commercial perspectives. However, the objects in his collection have often assumed center stage; Ruysch’s house-museum as a space has received little attention. This paper seeks to place Ruysch’s objects in context: it excavates the space they occupied, as it was socially and physically constructed. To do so it draws on two previously understudied sources. First, it conducts a detailed analysis of the visitors recorded in Ruysch’s guest books. This source reveals an intimate social environment which revolved around personal relationships. Secondly, Ruysch’s estate inventory allows for the detailed reconstruction of each room in the house. A virtual tour of Ruysch’s home reveals that the collection was deeply embedded in family life; learning spaces and living spaces were indistinguishable. Thus, while museums are thought to have become increasingly public in the 18th century, Ruysch’s house offers a compelling example of a museum that was in fact private, and highly domestic. By recovering the domestic context of Ruysch’s collection, this paper further emphasizes the household as a crucial site for the transmission and creation of knowledge.
Abstract ID :
HSS967
Submission Type
Abstract Topic
Chronological Classification :
18th century

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