Bidloo, Govard

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(b. Amsterdam, Netherlands, 21 March 1649; d. Leiden , Netherlands, 30 April 1713),

anatomy, biology.

Bidloo was the son of Govert Bidloo and Maria Feliers. who were Dutch Baptists. Little is Known about his education; but he must have received the traditional classical; instruction, for at the age of twenty-three he translater a Latin anatomical treatise by Ruysch into Dutch . In 1670 he was apprenticed to a surgeon in Amsterdam and was obliged to attend Ruysch’s anatomy lesson and Gerard Blasius’ botany lessons at the Hortus Medicus, It is very probable that Bidloo also attend the lectures on medicine presented by Blasius at the Athenaeum Illustre in Amsterdam, for on 2 May 1682 he matriculated at the University of Franeker, where he received the M. D three days later, after defending his dissertation, De variis anatomico medicis positionibus. Inthe Album promotorum of Franeker, it is noted following his name; “According to the decision of the Senate, Mr. Goverd [sic] Bidloo was allowed to given a solemn promise instead of the customary (Hippocratic) oath, on account of his religion”. Bidloo was appointed professor of anatomy at The Hague on 24 January 1688. Soon afterward he was invited to give weekly anatomy lessons in Rotterdam as well.

Bidloo’s abilities were recognized by stadhouder William III,1 who , in 1690, appointed him “superintendent-general of all physicians, apothecaries and surgeons of the military hospital of the Netherlands.“This was the time of the War of the Grand Alliance (1689-1699). which was fought largely in the Spanish Netherlands. Bidloo visited the various battlefields and made great improvements, especially in the provision of pharmaceutics. In May 1692 he was given the additional duty of supervising the British hospitals.

On 1 February 1694, Bidloo succeeded the celebrated anatomist Anton Nuck as professor of medicine and surgery at the University of Leiden. This appointment was probably due to the influence of William III, for it was customary to appoint only members of the Dutch Reformed Church to teaching positions at the universities. His teaching was frequently interrupted by calls to England from William III (1696, 1699), On 22 October 1701, Bidloo was appointed physician in ordinary to William, and he was among the doctors who attended him during the illness of which he died in 1702. Bidloo wrote an account of William’s sickness and death. During his last stay in England, Bidloo was elected a fellow of the Royal Society (21 January 1701).

Because of his service to William III, Bidloo had badly neglected his teaching duties at Leiden, for which dereliction he was officially reprimanded in 1697. After William’s death, however, Bidloo became a very good teacher and developed a large practice as well. He allowed some of his students to watch his more difficult operations, thus anticipating the technique of bedside teaching for which Boerhaave later made Leiden famous.

Bidloo is remembered not only as an anatomist and a surgeon but also as a poet and a playwright. He took a lively interest in the politics of his time and often used his poetical talents for political satire.2

Bidloo’s chief work was his anatomical atlas, which he started in 1676 and must have completed before May 1682: for in that month Anton Nuck wrote a letter to the Royal Society “that Mons. Bidloo, a skilful chirurgeon of Amsterdam, had newly shewed him above 100 anatomical figures of a the parts of a man as big as the life, ingraven on copper, with a description of the parts, but not of their use.”3 The 105 plates had been drawn by Gerard de Lairesse, one of the finest artists of his time, and had been etched in copper by Pieter and Philip van Gunst. The book-the first large-scale anatomical atlas since Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica (1543) —was published with a Latin text in 1685 and with a Dutch text in 1690. Although some of Bidloo’s contemporaries criticized the work on minor points, it was, and still is, generally admired. The book is of additional interest for showing many microscopical drawings of human organs. One of Bidloo’s critics, his former teacher Ruysch, incorporated his criticisms in a series of ten letters addressed to various anatomists. Bidloo answered Ruysch’s objections in a sarcastic pamphlet, and Ruysch replied in the same vein. The latter wrote six more letters but did not further attack Bidloo. The text of Bidloo’s atlas was its weakest point, for he intended to present only a brief description of the plates and refrained from writing an anatomical treatise.

In 1698, The Anatomy of Humane Bodies, signed by William Cowper, was published at Oxford.4 This publication is perhaps the most flagrant case of plagiarism in the history of medicine. All of Bidloo’s 105 plates were used; nine more, of doubtful value, were added. Bidloo’s text was not translated but was replaced by a new, more elaborate one. The cartouche in the engraved frontispiece was skillfully altered by covering the title of Bidloo’s book with that of Cowper’s. The only plate in Bidloo’s atlas not used in this production was Bidloo’s portrait, which was replaced by a large portrait of Cowper. Bidloo’s name did not appear on the title page, and in the text it was accompanied only by criticism of his work.

Although aware that Cowper was working on this atlas. Bidloo had been led to believe that it was a translation of his work. He offered Cowper alterations of his text in several letters, which were never answered. When Cowper’s book finally reached Bidloo, he wrote a pamphlet, addressed to the Royal Society, in which he exposed the fraud. This booklet ended as follows: “Take action and destroy, deprive this man of the title of honor of your Society. . . . Take away, noble judges, the foreign feathers which this impudent fellow shows off. . . . the ambitious miserly scoundrel and thief of literary knowledge. . . .” Cowper’s defense was somewhat lame. He denied having received any letters from Bidloo and disputed Bidloo’s right to the plates, claiming that they had been designed not by Bidloo but by Jan Swammerdam—and even if Bidloo had had a hand in them, they had been drawn by Lairesse. The statement that the plates were Swammerdam’s was, of course, preposterous; in addition, it was as bad to plagiarize Swammerdam as it was to plagiarize Bidloo.

This was a painful matter for the Royal Society, especially since the book had been published by Smith and Walford, its official printers. Hans Sloane, the second secretary of the Society, was directed by the Council to write to Bidloo “that the Society are not erected for determining controversies, but promoting naturall and experimentall knowledge, which they will do in him or anybody else.”5

Of Bidloo’s other anatomical work, only his work on the nerves will be mentioned. In his Opera omnia he proved that the nerves are not hollow tubes, as had been believed since the time of Galen, but are taut, transparent fibrous threads. Consequently, the animal spirits that the nerves were supposed to conduct did not exist.

Bidloo is remembered as a biologist for his admirable work on the liver fluke (Fasciala hepatica). He described his work on this parasite in a letter to Leeuwenhoek, who had it published. It is sometimes found bound in a collection of Leeuwen-hoek’s letters.


1. William III of Orange (1650- 1702) was stadhouder of Holland from 1672, He and his wife Mary were crowned king and queen of England in 1689.

2. See Nederduitsche en latynsche keurdichtent bijeen verzamelt door de liefhebberen der oude Holiondsche vrijhet {Rotterdam. 1710).

3. See T. Birch. The History of the Royal Society of London, IV (London, 1757), 151.

4. William Cowper was admitted as a barber-surgeon in London on 9 March 1691. His Myotomia reformata was published in 1694. In 1696 he was admitted as a fellow of the Royal Society. In addition to the book cited above and his edition of Bidloo’s atlas, he published a number of papers in the Transactions of the Royal Society.

5. See C. R. Weld. A History of the Royal Society. (London, 1848). 352.


I. Original Works. Bidloo’s writings include Ontdecking der klapvliezen, in de water en melkvaten, nevens eenige seldsame anatomische opservatien. In’t latijn besscherven door F. Ruysch, vertaelt door G. Bidloo. Alwaer bygevoegt zijn vijf briefsgewijse aenmerckingen van Winger de Vogel (Amsterdam, 1672); Anatomiahumani corporis, centum et quinque tab. per artificissime G. de Lairesse delin., illustrata (Amsterdam, 1685), translated into Dutch as Onleding des menschelijken lichaams, uitgebeeld naar het leven in 105 afteekeningen door G. de Lairesse (Amsterdam, 1690; reiss. with new title page. Utrecht, 1728; 1734); Dissertatio [Oratio] de antiquitate anatomes (Leiden, 1695); Disputatio medica inauguralis de vera medicinae cognitione, resp. Andreas Lundelius (Leiden, 1696); Vindiciae quarunhdam delineationum anatimicarum contra ineptas animadversiones Fred. Ruyschii (Leiden, 1697); Observatio medico-anatomica de animalculis in ovino aliorumque animantium hepate, edtegendis. Resp. Henricus Snellen (Leiden, 1698), translated into Dutch as Brief van G. Bidloo aan Antony van Leeuwenhoek; wegens de dieren beesten vind (Delft, 1698),English trans. in S. Hoole, The Select Works of Antony van Leeuwenhoek (London, 1800), 144-145; Gulielmus Cowper, criminis literarii citatus, coramtribunali nobiliss: ampliss: Societatics britanno-regiae (Leiden, 1700); Verhaal der laatste ziekte en het overlijden van Willem de IIIde, Koning van Groot Brittanje enz. (leiden, 1702); Exercitationum anatomico-chirugicarum, Decas I (Leiden, 1704); Exercitationum anatomica-chirugicarum, Decas II (Leiden, 1715); De oculis et visu variirum animalium observationes physico-anatomicae (Leiden, 1715); and Opera omina anatomico-chirurgica, edita et inedita (Leiden, 1715).

II. Secondary Literature. The letters in which Ruysch criticized Bidloo were published in a series of pamphlets; J. Gaubius, Epistolae probleaticae ad Fr. Ruyschiun, et hujus responsiones (Amsterdam, 1696-1704), repr. in F. Ruysch, Opera omnia anatomica-medico-chirurgico, huc usque edita (Amsterdam, 1737), translated into Dutch as Alle de ontleed-geneesen heelkundiga werken van Frederik Ruysch (Amsterdam, 1744). See also F. Ruysch, Resopsio ad Godefridi Bidloi libellum, cui nomen vindicarum inscripsit (Amsterdam, 1697: 2nd ed., 1738), Dutch trans. in F. Ruysch, Ontleed-genees- en heelkundige werken, I, 439-483. W. Cowper’s works are The Anatomy of Humane Bodies, With Figures Drawn After the Life by Some of the Best Masters in Europe, and Curiously Engraven in 114 Copperplates. Illustrated With Large Explications Containing Many New Anatomical Discoveries and Chirurgical Observations. To Which Is Added an introduction Explaining the Animal Economy (Oxford, 1698: 2nd ed., C. B. Albinus, ed., Leiden, 1737); and Ενχαριστια in qua dotes pluimae et singularis Godefridi Bidloo M. D. et in illustrissima Leydarum Academia anatomiae professoris celeberrimi, perita anatomica, probitas, ingenium, elegantiae latinatis, lepores, candor, humanitas, ingenuitas, solertia, verecundia, humilitas, urbanitas, etc., celebrantur et ejusdemcitationi humilime repondetur (London, 1701; repr. London, 1702).

See also the following, listed chronologically: J. P. Elias, Overzicht van de geschiedenis der geneeskunde in Rotterdam (Rotterdam, 1912), 33-35; J. van der Hoeven. “Een nieuw liedeken van de klagende lijken op ’t Cartuysers kerhof,” in Bijdragen tot de geschiedenis der genneskunde, 3 (1923), 335-336; E. D. Baumann, “Govard Bidloo,” in Nieuw nederlandsch biografisch woordenboek, VIII (1930), 104-108; J. A. J. Bagre “Het geneeskundig onderwijs aan de Leidsche Universiteit in de 18de eeuw,” in Bijdragen ot de geschiedenis der geneeskunde, 14(1934), 1-22; B. A. G. Veraart, “G. Bidloo’s verhaal van Engeland” ibid., 203-210; F. Beekman, “Bidloo and Cowper, Anatomists,” in Annals of Medical History, n. s. 7 (1935), 113-129; J. van Ditmar, “Dood van Stadhouder-koning Willem III,” in Bijdragen tot de geschiedenis der geneeskunde 17 (1937), 165-166; A.J. P. van den Broek, “Bidloo en Cowper,” ib ibid., 22 (1942), 72-77; W. Vasbinder, Govard Bidloo en William Cowper (Utrecht, 1948); E. D. Baumann, Drie eeuwen nederlandsche geneeskunde (Amsterdam, 9151), 246-249; R. Herrlinger, “Bidloo’s ‘Anatomia’; Prototyp barocker Illustation?” in Gesnerus, 23 (1966), 40-47; and N. Moore, “William Cowper,” in Dictionary of National Biography, IV, 1313-1314.

Peter W. Van der Pas

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