Skip to main content

Fuchs, Leonhart


(b. Wemding, Germany, 17 January 1501; d. Tübingen, Germany, 10 May 1566),

medicine, botany.

Fuchs’s father and paternal grandfather were Burgermeister of Wemding. His father, Hans Fuchs, married Anna Denteni in 1490; they had two sons and a daughter, Leonhart being the youngest child. When Leonhart was four years old his father died; and his grandfather, Johann Fuchs, assumed responsibility for the family. On walks through the countryside Johann taught his grandson the names of flowers and evidently imparted a lasting interest in them.

At the age of ten Fuchs was sent to Heilbronn to prepare for a university education. Progressing well, he transferred in the following year to the Marienschule in Erfurt; and in the fall of 1515 he entered the University of Erfurt. After only three semesters he took the baccalaureate examination and received the degree in 1517. Returning to Wemding, Fuchs opened a school that prospered; but in 1519 he enrolled at the University of Ingol-stadt and studied for a master’s degree under the controversial linguist and humanist Johann Reuch-lin; he also came under the sway of Luther’s writings. Fuchs later applied their reformist outlook to his own medical and scientific contributions. After receiving the master’s degree in 1521, he studied medicine at Ingolstadt and received the doctorate in 1524.

For two years Fuchs practiced medicine at Munich. In that city he met and married Anna Fried-berger: they had four sons and six daughters. He returned to Ingolstadt in 1526 as a professor of medicine but resigned two years later to become court physician to a fellow Lutheran, George von Brandenburg, margrave of Ansbach. There Fuchs gained wide respect in 1529 for his treatment of an epidemic that has been identified with the English sweating sickness. He received another appointment as professor of medicine at Ingolstadt in 1533, but opposition to his Lutheran religion prevented his assuming the position.

Instead, Fuchs became professor of medicine (1535) at Tubingen, where he remained for the rest of his life. He exerted a strong influence at the university and was elected rector in 1536 and in 1540. He also wrote the statutes of the medical faculty, issued in 1539. While on the faculty he continued to practice medicine.

In attempting to reform medicine. Fuchs emphasized the importance of relying upon the ancient Greek authorities rather than upon later authors, just as Protestant leaders emphasized the importance of the Bible, rather than later authors and traditions, as the source of Christianity. He was active in the movement to publish new and more accurate editions of the Greek texts and the Latin translations based upon them. One of the editors of a Greek edition of Galen’s works (Basel, 1538), he translated both Hippocratic and Galenic medical texts and also the pharmaceutical work of Nicolaus Myrepus Alexandrinus.

Fuchs’s reforming zeal led him into many controversies. Sometimes, as in his castigations of the hack writer Walther Hermann Ryff, his barbs were clearly deserved; but sometimes he seemed to side with Greek authors merely because they were ancient and their critics were less venerable. His bias nevertheless suited the polemical atmosphere of his times, and he became a very successful author—due to his organizing ability rather than to originality. Some contemporary complaints against him of plagiarism have been sustained, and other instances have more recently come to light. His great ability to organize knowledge is illustrated in his medical textbooks, beginning with the Compendiaria(1531). He frequently revised and enlarged them, and his Institutionum medicinae was reprinted as late as 1618.

Fuchs is best known for his pharmaceutical herbal, De historia stirpium (1542); the text included his own observations but was mostly a compilation of the work of other authors . The impressive illustrations came mainly from origianl drawings and woodcuts made under his supervision. They were often more spectacular than those that Otto Brunfels had published in his Herbarum vivae eicones(1530-1536) and were subsequently borrowed to illustrate many other herbals.

Fuchs, was not so blinded by reverence for the Greeks, however, that he lacked interest in new knowledge. Of the 487 species and varieties included in De historia stirpium, over 100 were recorded for the first time in Germany. Among the species that had never before been illustrated were foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) and Indian corn (Zeamays). In 1543 Fuchs issued a German edition of the Historia, with some revisions in the text and six additional illustrations. Later he aspired to publish one or two additional herbal volumes but was unable to obtain the necessary funds.


I. Orinigal Works. There is a very good bibliography of Fuchs’s works in Eberhard Stübler, Leonhart Fuchs, Leben und Werk (Munich, 1928), 115-133. Another good list is Richard J. Durling, A Catalogue of Sixteenth Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine (Bethesda, Md., 1967), 199-204, including eds. omitted by Stübler. There are two modern facs. eds. of the New Kreüterbuch(Leipzig, 1938; Munich, 1964), the German trans. of De historia stirpium. The Latin MS is extant and has been described by Kurt Ganzinger, “Ein Kräuterbuchmanuskript des Leonhart Fuchs in der Wiener Nationalbibliothek,” in Sudhoffs Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin,43 (1959), 213-224. Also extant are 25 wood engravings meant to illustrate a second volume of the New Kreüterbück, preserved at the Botanical Institute of the University of Tübingen, and 173 printed illustrations, preserved in the herbarium of Félix platter at the University of Bern. Some of the plants that Fuchs’s artists used for their drawings have been preserved in the herbarium of Leonhard Rauwolf at the Rijksherbarium, Leiden. These specimens have been discussed by Kurt Ganzinger, “Rauwolf und Fuchs, Ein Beitrag Zur Geschichte der Botanik im 16. Jahrhundert,” in Veröffentlichungen der Internationalen Gesellschaft für Geschichte der Pharmazie,22 (1963), 23-33.

Fuchs’s outline of eye diseases has been republished in modern times in German, in Latin, and in English translation. See Edward pergens, “Leonhard Fuchs’ alle Kranckheydt der Augen (1539),” in Zentralblatt fur praktische Augenheilkunde,23 (1899), 199-203, 231-238; and Karl Sudhoff, “Des Leonhart Fuchs, Professors in Tübingen, ‘Tabelle der Augenkrankheiten,’ im lateinischen Originalwortlaut von 1538 bekanntgegeben,” in Archiv für Augenheilkunde,97 (1926), 493-501. In 1936 the British Optical Association published as separate charts a facs. of the original Latin outline and also an English trans.

Most of Fuch’s writnigs except for Historia stirpium were published in his Operum… omnia, 3 vols. ((Frankfurt am Main, 1566-1567; 2nd ed. in 1 vol., 1604).

II. Secondary Literature. The standard contemporary source is the obituary by Fuchs’s colleague, Georg Hizler: Oratio de vita et morte clarissimi virimedici et philosophi praestantissimi. D. Leonharti Funchsii, artis medendi in Academia Tubingensi Professoris doctissimi (Tübingen, 1566), repr. in Fuchs’s Opera (1566, 1604). Stübler (see above) is the best and most detailed modern survey of Fuchs’s entire career and works. Horst Rudolf Abe has provided additional details about Fuchs’s early studies at Erfurt in “Zur Datierung des Erfurter Universitätsaufenthaltes von Leonhart Fuchs,” in NTM/Schriftenreihe für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, Technik und Medizin,9 (1972), 56-61. Further information concerning Fuchs’s life and work from 1541 to 1565 is available from his letters to the Camerariuses, which Gerhard Fichtner has discussed in “Neues zu Leben und Werk von Leonhart Fuchs aus seinen Briefen an Joachim Camerarius I. und II. in der Trew-Sammlung,” in Gesnerus, 25 (1968), 65-82.

Luigi Samoggia has documented Fuchs’ poorly acknowledged indebtedness to Leoniceno’s treatise on the errors of Pliny (1492), as revealed in Funcus’s Errata recentiorum medicorum(1530; rev. and retitled Paradoxorum medicinae,1535), in “Le ripercussioni in Germania dell’ indirizzo filologico-medico Leoniceniano della scuola ferrarese per opera di Leonardo Fuchs,’” in Quaderni di storia della scienza e deela medicina,4 (1964), 3-41. Samoggia has also discussed Fuchs’s borrowings from Giovanni Manardo’s Epistolarum medicinalium when writing his own Compendiaria (1531), Paradoxorum medicinae(1535), and Tabula oculorum morbos comprehendens(1538), in ’ Manardo e la scuola umanistica filologica tedesca con particolare riguardo a Leonard fuchs,” in Atti del Convegno internazionale per la celebrazione del V centenario della nascità diGiovanni Manardo, 1462-1536 (Ferrara, 1963), 241-251.

W. P. D. Wightman has discussed the understanding of scientific method in Fuchs’ Compendiaria (1531; rev. and retitled Methodus, 1541) in Science and the Renaissance: I, An Introduction to the Study of the Emergence of the Sciences in the Sixteenth Century (Edinburgh-New York, 1962), 213-217. Wightman has also discussed Fuche’s “methodological predecessors, Giovanni Battista da Monte and Manardo, in ’Quid sit Methodus? ’Method’ in Sixteenth Century Medical Teaching and ‘Discovery,’” in Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences,19 (1964), 360-376.

Georg Harig has discussed Fuchs’s pharmacological theory, pointing out its ultimate origin in the writings of Galen, and possibly those of Oribasius and several Arabic authors, in “Leonhart Fuchs und die theoretische Pharmakologie der Antike,” in NTM/Schriftenreihe für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, Technik und Medizin,3 (1966). 74-104. The likelihood of Fuchs’s indebtedness to the pharmacological writings of late medieval European physicians, such as Arnald of Villanova and Bernard of Gordon, has not yet been studied, however.

Van Schevensteen has discussed the relationship between the writings of Fuchs on eye diseases and the work of an anonymous contemporary in “À propos de traités d’ophtalmologie parus à Strasbourg au début du XVIe siècle,” in Janus,28 (1924), 1-20. J. H. Sutcliffe has clarified Fuchs’s understanding of eye diseases and has explained the policy of the English translation in “The Tabula oculorum morbos comprehendens of Leonhart Fuchs,” in Dioptric Review,38 (1936). 347_353.

Although Fuchs acknowledged that he used Vesalius’ Fabrica and Epitome when writing his own De humani corporis fabrica ex Galeni & Andrea Vesalii libris concinnatae epitome, 2 vols. (Tubingen, 1551), he nevertheless plagiarized Vesalius in it. See C. D. O’Malley, Andreas Vesalius of Brussels, 1514-1564 (Berkeley, Calif., 1965, 245-248.

Thomas A. Sprague and E. Nelmes have published a very useful analysis of Fuchs’s contributions to botany. “The Herbal of Leonhart Fuchs,” in Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society of London,48 (1931), 545-642. Heinrich Marzell published a useful intro. to the New Kreüterbüch, which appeared with the facs. ed. of 1938. and also separately as Leonhart Fuchs und sein New Kreüterbüch (1543) (Leipzig, 1938). Agnes Arber has placed Fuchs’s herbal in the perspective of contemporary botany in Herbals, Their Origin and Evolution: A Chapter in the History of Botany, 1470-1670, 2nd ed. (Combridge, 1938). Edward Lee Greene has discussed Fuchs’s use of botanical terminology and nomenclature in Landmarks of Botanical History, 2nd ed., Frank N. Egerton III. ed., I (in press), ch. 6. Helen A. Choate has translated Fuchs’s glossary in “The Earliest Glossary of Botanical Terms: Fuchs 1542,” in Torreya,17 (1917), 186-201. The claim for Fuchs’s originality cannot be sustained, however, because he drew heavily upon Jean Rulle’s terminology in De natura Stirpium (1536), as Greene discovered—see Landmarks of Botanical History, II, ch. 16.

A. H. Church has discussed the relative merits of the illustrations in the herbals of Brunfels and of Fuchs, and has indicated the illustrations used by Fuchs that were plagiarized from Brunfels: “Brunfels and Fuchs,” in Journal of Botany,57 (1919), 233-244.

Other useful contributions to an understanding of Fuchs’s activities as a botanist are Stübler, Op. cit., ch. 5; Ganzinger, “Ein Kräuterbuchmanuskript…” (1959) and “Rauwolf und Fuchs…” (1963); and F.W.E. Roth, “Leonhard Fuchs, ein deutscher Botaniker, 1501-1566,” in Beihefte zum Botaniscben Zentralblatt,8 (1998), 161-191.

Frank N. Egerton III

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Fuchs, Leonhart." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . 20 Sep. 2018 <>.

"Fuchs, Leonhart." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . (September 20, 2018).

"Fuchs, Leonhart." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.