The Vault

A 16th-Century GIF Tour of the Inside of the Brain

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German physician Georg Bartisch’s book Ophthalmodouleia, That is the Service of the Eye, published in 1583, includes 91 wood cuts illustrating then-current principles of ophthamology. The Duke University Library’s Tumblr recently featured this GIF made from one of the wood cuts, which tours the reader through the skull and brain using a series of flaps that simulate dissection. 

Bartisch published Ophthalmodouleia at his own expense, ophthamologist Ronald F. Lowe writes, adding, “The book was one of the first medical treatises to be published in the German vernacular instead of traditional Latin.” The color in the plates of Duke University’s copy of the book was added by hand soon after publication.

In his book, Bartisch—then serving as oculist in the court of Duke Augustus I of Saxony—aggregated 16th-century knowledge about diseases and afflictions of the eye. The text addresses the anatomy of the head and eye, then moves on to discuss treatments for cataracts, trauma, strabismus (misalignment or “crossing” of the eye), and afflictions presumed to be caused by witchcraft.

Bartisch regularly performed surgeries, and advised readers on best practices for preparing (and restraining) patients, who would need to remain still without the benefit of anesthesia. (Other images from the book can be seen here, via the University of Iowa’s Digital Library.)

Courtesy of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.