I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.(Psalms 22:14)

Harvey’s recent discovery of blood circulation, a finding that prompted Descartes todevelop an alternative theory. Ruysch also threw himself into the investigation of circulation. Not necessarily the circulation of blood, though. His first research focused onthe lymphatic system, which had been discovered a few years earlier. Soon after hegraduated from Leiden, he found out that, like the veins, the lymph vessels also possessedvalves. This was not just a curious fact; it helped him determine which way the lymphflowed, a much debated problem amongst contemporary physicians.Ruysch remained faithful to circulation throughout his very long career, up to hisdeath at age 92. Together with his fellow students in Leiden, he developed a new and revolutionary technique to trace the flow of the bodily fluids. The new invention relied on the injection of colored, molten wax into the blood vessels of a cadaver. The hot liquidquickly filled up the veins and the arteries. Once it solidified, it showed with unparalleledclarity the meandering routes that the vessels had taken in the organs. And, if onlyslowly, it led to a major revelation for Ruysch. The Dutch anatomist gradually came torealize that, if one looked carefully, vessels were the only building blocks of the human body: blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, and the nerves.He gave an intimation of this idea in his letter on the spleen. As he wrote to aforgotten colleague, the closer he looked at the spleen, the more he was convinced that itcontained nothing but “arteries, veins, lymphatic vessels and nerves.”

While earlier physicians had thought that the spleen contained a number of glands, upon closer examination, these glands turned out to be intricately interwoven nets of vessels, heldtogether by a thin membrane. Then he probed further. Next came the brain, and its whitematter. When Ruysch injected molten wax into the vessels of the brain, it became crystalclear, at least for him, that the white matter consisted exclusively of nerves and bloodvessels. As the blood vessels branched into tiny arterioles, they began to resemble theintricate structure of moss. The white matter’s strange consistency resulted from themessy and mossy mishmash of blood vessels. From the brain, it was only a quick step tofemale breasts. While earlier (and later) physicians thought that the breast was filled withmilk-producing glands, this was clearly an error, Ruysch declared. What looked likeglands, he argued, was a complex web of blood vessels, of course. As the blood vessels branched right and left, they separated the various ingredients of blood. The red particlesof blood went left, while the white particles went right, and turned into milk. One did notneed glands to explain the production of milk, the vessels did it on their own. And oncethe breasts were done, it took only a leap of imagination to believe that the whole bodywas a network of vessels that circulated the vital fluids. Humans were the early modern internet.

Since 1995 Gunther von Hagens Body Worlds, has traveled the world. The Body Worlds is an anatomical exhibition of real human bodies. These bodies were preserved and posed using a special plastination technique developed by Gunther. The plastinated bodies were developed to aid with medical study.

The bodies may be molded or posed into any form for optimal study and understanding of the muscular system. Muscles may also be removed to give emphasis to just the nervous system if desired. Even cross sections of people may be developed for study and analysis. While the initial concept of converting humans to anatomical exhibits may be a bit appalling it has proven to be a great educational aid.

Before the Body Worlds exhibit gained notoriety and world fame there were the preserved bodies of Honore Fragonard. Honore was cousin to famous painter Jean Honore Fragonard. Honore however developed and implemented a technique of preservation in the 18th century. The bodies were preserved using injections of wax in the veins. As well as coating the the remnant body.

These anatomical preservations were known as ecorches. They were different from those of painters and artists in that they used the remnant corpses. Somewhere between 1766-1771 Fragonard created the Horseman of the Apocalypse. A copy of Durer’s famous painting. The Horseman is the largest of Fragonard’s exhibits.

Amongst Fragonard’s other preserved bodies are The Man with a Mandible, Goat Chest, Wax-injected human head, Human fetuses and several others. Other techniques Fragonard experimented with were the Injection-corrosion technique. This method was accomplished by injecting the vessels with an inert material. Then the tissues would be corroded with an acid leaving only the cast of the injected inert material.

Many people view both of these methods of preservation as inhuman and a travesty of nature. This is partially true. Consider the time that Fragonard created his displays. They would be considered much more awful in his time. Whatever your views are of these methods it still does not change that they serve as a great educational aid to learn about the functions of the body. Consider this, while X number of bodies may be subjected to preservation, many more will be spared dissection. If for no other reason than the body worlds are preserved indefinitely.


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