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A Japanese scroll painting depicting Lorenz Heister (1683-1758)    Late 18th century
A Japanese scroll painting depicting Lorenz Heister (1683-1758)    Late 18th century

A Japanese scroll painting depicting Lorenz Heister (1683-1758)


Late 18th century

Titled Portrait of Heister in Japanese at the bottom and annotated at the top indicating that the scroll was a present to an unknown doctor.

H. 194 x W, 63 cm (scroll)

H. 109 x W, 51 cm (image)

According to Wolfgang Michel-Zaitsu of Kyushu University, one of the leading experts on the introduction of Western medicine into 17th and 18th century Japan, rangaku, this is likely to be the portrait of Heister, not only because of the text and of the book he is holding but also because of the strong resemblance to other known portraits of Heister, for instance, a scroll painting by Shiba Kõkan (1747-1818) in the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and another one by Kitayama Kangan (1767-1801) in the Kobe City Museum.

Lorenz Heister (Frankfurt am Main 1683 – Bornum 1758), had a strong influence on Japanese Rangakusha, studies of western science, and specifically on Orandaryũ-geka, surgery according to the Dutch methods.

Heister, son of a lumber merchant who later became an innkeeper and wine merchant, was educated at the Frankfurt Gymnasium where he received additional lessons in French and Italian, and studied medicine at
the universities of Giessen and Wetzlar. Thereafter he went to Amsterdam where he attended the botanical lectures of Caspar Crommelin and the anatomical demonstrations of Frederik Ruysch. In June 1707, during the War of the Spanish Succession, Heister worked in the field hospitals at Brussels and Ghent. After his return to Holland, he continued his studies in Leiden, attending Herman Boerhaave’s lectures on chemistry and the deceases of the eye, and Govert Bidloo’s anatomical lessons. In 1708 he returned to Amsterdam where he gave lessons and demonstrations in anatomy, in Dutch, German, French or Italian, depending on his students. In 1709 he again joined the Dutch army as a field surgeon. In 1711 he was appointed professor of anatomy and surgery at the University of Altdorf and later at the university of Helmstedt. In Helmstedt, where he remained for the rest of his life, he was charged with the teaching of theoretical and practical medicine, and botany.

Heister made many advances in anatomy and discovered the true cause of cataracts, an opacity of the crystalline lens. He main significance though, is as a teacher and author. He trained many surgeons and physicians, and his books on anatomy, surgery, and medicine dominated the field for several generations, serving to educate thousands of surgeons and physicians throughout western Europe. His main work, Chirurgie, published in 1731 in several editions, originally written in German, was translated into seven languages, including Japanese. The Japanese translation is based on the Dutch Heelkundige Onderwijzingen, published in 1755 in Amsterdam. Although not the first European book on surgery to be translated in Japanese, it was certainly the most influential in introducing Western methods to many Japanese surgeons. Starting in 1792 different parts of the book were translated and circulated in manuscript only. One of these manuscripts, on the dressing of wounds Geka Shũkõ was published in 1814 by Õtsuki Genkan, and the work Yõi Shinshõ, attributed to Sugita Gempaka and Õtsuki Gentaka, published in 1822, is sometimes considered to be the complete translation of Chirurgie, but rather is a collection of earlier manuscript translations.

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