'Fruitful Cooperation', a virtual exhibition on the common medical history of Russia and the Netherlands

'Fruitful Cooperation', a virtual exhibition on the common medical history of Russia and the Netherlands

Through rare and sometimes never-before-exhibited objects the exhibition highlights the cooperation of Russia and the Netherlands in the history of medicine.
By Tijana Stepanovic

The online exhibition Fruitful Cooperation - Common medical history of Russia and the Netherlands: from Peter the Great to N. I. Pirogov focuses on the influence that the Netherlands, and in particular Leiden University, had on medical science in Russia. It opened simultaneously at Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) and the Anatoly Sobchak Foundation in St. Petersburg. The exhibition presents rare and sometimes never-before-exhibited objects which have never been brought together in a common exhibition on medicine.

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Three wet preparations from the “small collection of 26 dry and wet objects” by Frederik Ruysch, part of the Frederik Ruysch collection. This small collection was privately owned by Tsar Peter the Great and is housed in the museum of the Department of Anatomy of the Military Medical Academy called SM Kirov.
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Three wet preparations from the “small collection of 26 dry and wet objects” by Frederik Ruysch, part of the Frederik Ruysch collection. This small collection was privately owned by Tsar Peter the Great and is housed in the museum of the Department of Anatomy of the Military Medical Academy called SM Kirov. Photo: Courtesy of the Military Medical Academy called SM Kirov
Dutch influencers

The medical worlds of Russia and the Netherlands initially seem pretty separate, but the opposite is true. From the 16th century onwards, the Dutch and, in particular, doctors with a doctorate from Leiden university had a strong influence on the development of the medical curriculum and the organisation of medicine in Russia. This influence lasted until the first quarter of the 19th century.

Until 1700, Russia had no higher education for medical studies, while Leiden University with its medical faculty was a leading force in the Netherlands, Europe, and far beyond. Peter the Great wanted to reform medicine in Russia. He visited Leiden University in 1697, 1698 and 1717. He bought important medical heritage and shipped it to Russia.

In the exhibition, much attention is paid to Leiden alumnus doctor Nicolaas Bidloo. This nephew of the rector of Leiden University was taken to Russia by the Tsar and was appointed court physician. Bidloo built the first medical hospital in Russia, using Leiden as an example. The hospital, which opened in 1707, had its own medical school, anatomical theatre and botanical garden. Students continued their education in Leiden. Thus, in the 18th century, Leiden supplied four Russian ministers of health, among others. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Bidloo school in Moscow was ultimately merged into the predecessor of the Military Medical Academy SM Kirov in Saint Petersburg.

This mutual medical cultural heritage is an unknown area for most people in the Netherlands, the Russian Federation, and the world
Personal collections

Several objects shown in the exhibition come from the Tsar's personal collections. These include the small collection of anatomical and zoological preparations of Frederick Ruysch. The anatomical part was restored in 2019 by LUMC staff and has never been exhibited before. Parts from the Russian archives of Herman Boerhaave are also on display.

"In the Netherlands, we know very little about this part of our history," says the curator of the exhibition, PhD student Inge Hendriks, whose research on the Russian doctor Nikolay Pirogov led to the realisation of the project. "I was impressed by the Russian medical history, which appears to be largely based on influences from the Netherlands. I wanted to show these ties to a larger public. My main motivation was to build bridges despite differences in opinions and various obstacles. The Dutch-Russian team has worked on this exhibition as one big family, it was an honour to experience the enthusiasm and trust of the team."

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Nicolaas Bidloo - Alumni of Leiden University (1674-1735). Photo: Inge F. Hendriks
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Nicolaas Bidloo - Alumni of Leiden University (1674-1735). Photo: Inge F. Hendriks
My main motivation was to build bridges despite differences in opinions and various obstacles
Broad cooperation

Curator Hendriks gained access to the archives of the Military Medical Academy and the Military Medical Museum in St. Petersburg. Besides Leiden University/LUMC and the Anatoly Sobchak Foundation Museum Naturalis in Leiden participated as well. Other Russian institutes, such as the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg with its large collection of medical instruments, have also agreed to contribute to the exhibition. This part of the Boerhaave-Ruijsch-Pirogov Program was funded by NWO and the Dutch Consulate General in St. Petersburg.

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Peter the Great owned a beautiful collection of surgical and trepanation instruments, which were specially made for him (it is not clear, whether they all were made exclusively for Peter or he has bought them ready-made). These instruments can be admired in the department of Russian Culture of the 1st half of the 18th century in the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. Photo: State Hermitage Museum St. Petersburg
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Peter the Great owned a beautiful collection of surgical and trepanation instruments, which were specially made for him (it is not clear, whether they all were made exclusively for Peter or he has bought them ready-made). These instruments can be admired in the department of Russian Culture of the 1st half of the 18th century in the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. Photo: State Hermitage Museum St. Petersburg

See the complete overview of Dutch cultural activities in Russia in our Database.

If you are a cultural professional wanting to go to Russia, feel free to contact our Russia advisor Tijana Stepanovic.

For funding possibilities, check out our Cultural Mobility Funding Guide or the websites of our partners EYE International, Film Fund, Fonds Podiumkunsten, Het Nieuwe Instituut, Letterenfonds, Mondriaan Fonds, Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industries, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Russia or the Consulate-General of the Netherlands in Saint Petersburg.

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