Selling the Dead: Anatomy as Business in the Dutch Golden Age


Frederik Ruysch tableau utilizing fetal skeletons and other human remains, from a 1744 etching

An Illustrated Lecture with Daniel Margocsy of Hunter College
Date: Friday, March 23rd
Time: 8:00
Admission: $5
Presented by Morbid Anatomy

What can dead bodies tell you about the secret of life? And how can you make money from investigating these secrets? This lecture takes us back to the Dutch Golden Age when anatomists busily engaged with cutting up cadavers, orangoutans and exotic toads to study the circulation of blood, sweat and tears. Sumptuous paintings, color prints, illustrated atlases, wax preparations and bottled embryos showcased and touted the latest discoveries about the human body.

It was a good business to do anatomy. Immortalized by Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson, Dr. Tulp was one of the richest men in Amsterdam, and Frederik Ruysch amassed a fortune from selling his anatomical specimens to the Russian czar. The talk reveals the entrepreneurial life of Dutch physicians, surgeons and apothecaries who transformed decaying cadavers into material wealth.

Daniel Margocsy is assistant professor of early modern history at Hunter College – CUNY. He received his PhD in the history of science from Harvard University in 2009. He has published articles in the Journal of the History of Ideas, the British Journal for the History of Science and the Netherlands Yearbook of Art History, and is currently working on the book Commercial Visions: Science, Trade and Visual Culture in the Dutch Golden Age.

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