Adriaen Backer: Portrait of the inspectors of the Collegium Medicum of Amsterdam (1683)

(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

A painting by the Dutch portrait painter Adriaen Backer (1635-1684). In the late Middle ages until 1800 you would have different persons related to medicine:

- A doctor (medicinae) - a person who had studied at a university and practiced theoretical medicine. He handled internal diseases. He also worked an observer or a consultant (surgery was considered to be beneath them).

- barber - practiced cutting, dressing, grooming, styling and shaving hair. After a small exam he might perform minor surgeries such as bloodletting and could provide assistance at complicated operations. In practice the barbers preoccupied themselves with other forms of medicine so after 1597 it was decided that they were no any longer allowed to be engaged in any form of medicine.

- surgeon (Dutch= Chirurgijn) - a practical physician. He didn't study at a university and learned the profession from another surgeon but had to pass and exam at the barber-surgeons guild. The surgeon would performed surgeries (major surgeries had to be performed in the precense of a doctor medicinae), pulling teeth, treating wounds, removing gal- and bladder-stones, amputations, treating bone fractures and teaching anatomical lessons. Surgeons (having access to surgical instruments) were sometimes also called in for assistance in a difficult childbirth by a midwife. They also functioned as medical examiner for the police to establish the cause of death. Most surgeons had specialized in certain parts of medicine but usually also were a barber for financial reasons. 

- quacks - traveling 'specialists' and sellers of medicines. They were not a member of a guild and were only allowed to practize their trade after the permission of the city authorities. During their stay in the city they had to pay dues to the Surgeons-Guild

- Midwives - exclusively females. Midwives did not have any education and learned from experience (before 1800 about 1,3% of the deliveries ended with the death of the mother). In the beginning they were not organized into guilds. During the 16th century surgeons (exclusively men) started to get interested in obstetrics. the ones who specialized in obstetrics called themselves obstetricians (Dutch = Vroedmeester). The obstetricians and midwives usually didn't get along (each calling the other quacks). In the end the surgeons and doctors decided in the 17th century that the midwives had to be a member of the surgeons-guild and that a midwife should take an exam (taken by the surgeons-guild) before she was allowed to perform her trade.


Common for that time these men were also organized into guilds (not being a member of your guild ment that you were not allowed to exercise your trade). Barbers and Surgeons were organized in the barber-surgeons guild. Doctors and pharmacists were organized in the Collegium Medicum. The men on the painting are the members of the Collegium Medicum of Amsterdam. The Collegium Medicum was the guild for pharmacists and doctors (medicinae). They supervised the pharmacists of the city, the registration of every pharmacist in the city and doctors, controlled the quality of the medicins (almost all the medicins could only be bought with a recipe from a doctor medicinae), advised the city-council in the matter of healthcare and medicine and judged in disputes between guild-members or a guild-member and an individual. The doctor medicinae regarded themselves as superior to the surgeons (who usually perfomed the real medicine). Surgeons on their part regarded the doctors medicinae as quacks. The Collegium Medicum and the barber-surgeons guild frequently collided with eachother because of this. The board-of-directors of the Collegium Medicum, called inspectors, were made of 2 pharmacists and 3 doctors. Present on this portrait are (from left to right):

- Sieuwert van Duynen, guild servant of the Collegium Medicum in Amsterdam
- Egbertus Veen, doctor in Kampen and Amsterdam
- Bonaventura Coegelen van Dortmont, doctor in Amsterdam
- Joan Verwout, doctor in Amsterdam
- Johannes de Vriest, pharmacist in Amsterdam
- ... de Vriest, son of Johannes de Vriest - in the background
- Jacobus Danckertsz. de Ry, pharmacist in Amsterdam

On the right is a statue of the god Apollo, on the left a statue of Hygieia (goddess of health, cleanliness and hygiene)
Painting from 1683.

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