“In the Service of the Eye”: Georg Bartisch’s 16th Century Textbook On Ophthalmology

By:  Kevin Grace

bartisach reader-smallA new exhibit has been mounted in the 8th floor hallway of Blegen Library.  Reproduced from a volume in the Archives & Rare Book Library, this exhibit features fourteen woodcuts from a 16th century science book.   One of the seminal medical texts of the Renaissance, Georg Bartisch’s volume on the eye, Ophthalmodouleia Das ist Augendienst, was a remarkably detailed guide to surgical techniques on ocular diseases.  Published in 1583, this “service of the eye” would build the foundation for ophthalmology research for the next 300 years.

Physician ExamBartisch was an extraordinary man.  Born in Konigsbruck, Saxonia in 1535, at the age of 13 he left home and apprenticed himself to a barber surgeon and then became an itinerant physician, traveling throughout Germany until he came under the patronage of Duke Augustus I of Saxony in 1588.  Self-trained in eye surgery, his skill was such that when he published his manuscript describing eye diseases and their treatment, the book became a best-seller in the medical field.

Perhaps most noteworthy about the book, its pages contain 92 woodcuts that provide a visual guide to eye ailments and include images of the proper medical instruments, the operating theatre, and most unusual, two lift-the-flap illustrations that take the practitioner step-by-step Weight on Eyesthrough the surgical process.

The author was also a man of the age: in addition to understanding the vital practice of surgery, Bartisch fervently believed in witchcraft and astrology and the active role they played in medicine.  He died in 1607.  A paper on this fascinating book will be presented this spring at the annual meeting of the Ohio Academy of Medical History, and the exhibit in Blegen continues through May.

Please follow and like us: