Döllinger, Ignaz

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Döllinger, Ignaz

(b. Bamberg, Germany, 27 May 1770; d. Munich, Germany, 14 January 1841)

physiology, embryology.

Döllinger should be considered one of the most able and influential German biologists of the early nineteenth century. Although his initial scientific career was associated with the application of Friedrich W. Schelling’s philosophical ideas to physiology and embryology, Döllinger simultaneously conducted microscopical observations related to embryonic and vascular structures. His major achievement was to provide enthusiasm, method, and assistance to the new generation of scientists, such as Karl von Baer, Heinrich Christian von Pander, Johann L. Schönlein, Georg Kaltenbrunner, and Eduard d’Alton. Thus Döllinger symbolizes the successful attempt in Germany to proceed beyond the narrow schemes embodied by Naturphilosophie and to instruct students in the virtues of observation and experiment.

As the son of the personal physician to Franz Ludwig von Erthal, ruler of the bishopric of Würzburg and Bamberg, Döllinger received an elaborate education. After completing his studies in philosophy and natural sciences at the University of Bamberg, he began his medical career there, transferring later to Würzburg. Under the sponsorship of Erthal, Döllinger next went to Vienna, where he received the clinical training lacking at the time in Germany. In addition he improved his anatomical knowledge and acquired great skill in vascular injection techniques under the direction of Prochaska. The Vienna sojourn was followed by a journey to the University of Pavia, where Döllinger studied under Johann Peter Frank and Antonio Scarpa.

In 1793 Döllinger returned home after the revolutionary wars had forced Pavia to close its doors. In 1794 he received the M.D. from the University of Bamberg, where he was then named professor of physiology and general pathology; he remained until 1801, when the university was closed as a result of the annexation of the bishopric by Bavaria. In 1803, under the new administration, Döllinger was elected professor of anatomy and physiology at the reorganized University of Würzburg. He remained there for twenty years and was the most important figure at the medical school, attracting a great number of students, especially from Germany and the Russian Empire.

In 1816 Döllinger was accepted as member of the Leopoldinisch-Karolinische Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher. After being a corresponding member since 1819, he was elected in 1823 to a regular chair at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. He therefore moved to Munich in order to fill the vacancy left by the anatomist Samuel T. Sömmering. Döllinger’s early years in Munich were occupied with the creation and construction of an anatomical amphitheater, which was opened in 1827. Also, after the University of Bavaria had been moved from Landshut to Munich in 1826, he became its professor of human and comparative anatomy. He was elected secretary of the mathematical-physical section of the Bavarian Academy for the years 1827–1830 and 1833–1836, and became a member of the Bavarian Medical Advisory Board in 1836. His health was seriously and permanently affected by the cholera epidemic that ravaged Germany in 1836. Döllinger’s last years were spent in virtual seclusion, and he died of a perforated gastric ulcer.

Döllinger’s early treatise Grundriss der Naturlehre des menschlichen Organismus is an attempt to place the physiological knowledge available at the turn of the nineteenth century within Schelling’s philosophical postulates. But in the preface he makes it clear that this formulation will not stifle his spirit of inquiry or hamper further search for knowledge. For him Naturphilosophie was pure and absolute philosophical knowledge, which could not determine the finite biological phenomena with which he was dealing.

As a Bavarian academician, Döllinger sought to improve his major research tool, the microscope. With the opticians of the Utzschneider-Fraunhofer Institute at Munich he was instrumental in achieving needed corrections on the aplanatic microscope. He made microscopical observations of the blood circulation, and in his short monograph “Vom Kreislaufe des Blutes” paid special attention to the red and white blood cells and their intravascular and extravascular fates in the different tissues. Döllinger felt that these cells were elementary organic units floating in the serum, and that their chemical transformation was needed for the nutrition and secretion of the different organic structures.

In embryology Döllinger stimulated research on the morphology of the developing chick. He was a believer in the existence of a plastic, organic principle that unfolded its own design within the embryo. He set out to follow this process microscopically and recognized the early stages of embryonic differentiation.


I. Original Works. Döllinger’s writings include Grundriss der Naturlehre des menschlichen Organismus, zum Gebrauch bei seinen Vorlesungen (Bamberg-Würzburg, 1805); Beyträge zur Entwicklungsgeschichte des menschlichen Gehirns(Frankfurt, 1814); “Vom Pulse,” in Deutsches Archiv für die Physiologie, 2 (1816), 356–358; “Versuch einer Geschichte der menschlichen Zeugung,” ibid., 388–402; Was ist Absonderung und wie geschieht sie? Eine akademische Abhandlung (Würzburg, 1819); “Bemerkungen über die Vertheilung der feinsten Blutgefässe in den beweglichen Teilen des thierischen Körpers,” in Deutsches Archiv für die Physiologie, 6 (1820), 186–199; and Vom Kreislaufe des Blutes, vol. VII in the series Denkschriften der K. Akademie der Wissenschaften (Munich, 1821), pp. 169–228.

II. Secondary Literature. On Döllinger or his work, see Burkard Eble, Curt Sprengel’s Versuch einer pragmatischen Geschichte der Arzneikunde (Vienna, 1837), VI, pt. 1, many refs. between pp. 303 and 618; Albert von Köiliker, Zur Geschichte der medicinischen Facultät an der Universität Würzburg. Rede zur Feier des Stiftungstages der Julius-Maximilians Universität (Würzburg, 1871), pp. 31–37; Arthur William Meyer, Human Generation: Conclusions of Burdach, Doellinger and von Baer (Stanford. Calif., 1956), pp. 26–32; and Phillip F. von Walther, Rede zum Andenken an Ignaz Doellinger Dr. (Munich, 1841).

Guenter B. Risse