History of the institute of anatomy in innsbruck

On November 3rd, 1674, Prof. Gaudenz von Sala ceremoniously opened the Medical Faculty with his inaugural lecture.

His successor was Ferdinand Karl von Weinhart (1677 – 89), a son of the physician in ordinary to the Archduke Sigismund Franz. Von Sala and von Weinhart both represented anatomy among the subjects of the “medical institutions”.

An independent anatomical professorship (then called “Lehrkanzel”) was founded on May 2nd, 1689 by Friedrich Statlender. About him somebody wrote: “He was remarkably intent on dissecting human bodies.” In those first years it was a great problem to procure corpses and opportunities for dissections. The anatomy professor himself had to acquire the dead bodies of persons who had suffered the death penalty, and so contacts between the hangman and the anatomy and/or the medical faculty came into being. The financial losses the hangman thus suffered (for example by losing the fat of the corpses) had to be compensated. The first chance Statlender got to prepare a human body was when he got hold of the mortal remains of one of the Duke’s public servants who had been sentenced to death.

In 1716, Franz Karl von Egloff acquired the professorship for anatomy. He was made rector three times and wrote, among other books, his “Anthropologica Anatomica”.

In 1716, Johann Baptist Rindler was given the professorship, but he left in 1737 to teach botanics and aphorisms.

The portrait of his successor, Hieronimus Leopoldus Bacchettoni from Preci near Norcia (Umbria) is still to be seen in the operational theatre (theatrum). His book “Anatomia cum figuris” of which the collection of antique books of the Institute of Anatomy still owns a copy was the first manual to be rather well-known all over Austria. In 1738 Bacchettoni issued invitations to an “Anatomia publica”.

Franz Caspar Benedikt von Egloff followed him as professor of anatomy and surgery in 1750. In 1754 in addition to these two chairs he got a teaching assignment for obstetrics.
In 1780 Aloys Paul Trabucco from Bormio took over from Egloff who came from Innsbruck. Two years later, in 1782, Trabucco was dismissed but received one year’s salary as recompense; the faculty was converted into a lyceum.

From 1782 – 1800 Joseph Rottfruf, Andreas Miller and Joseph Biller were responsible for the teaching of anatomy. After them, Joseph Theodor Albaneder worked here from 1801 – 1843. His publication about the “Sauerbrunnen (acidulous fountain) of Obladis” gives evidence of the widespread erudition of his time.

Karl Edler von Patruban who had got his doctor’s degree in Vienna came to Innsbruck to work at the anatomy from 1843 – 1946.

In 1846 Karl Dantscher who came from Styria succeeded him as full professor; in 1869 he became dean (Dekan) of the newly built (III) faculty; in 1870 and 1877 he was rector. His portrait is still to be seen in the library. Dantscher was a fellow-student of Joseph Hyrtl, the probably best known professor of anatomy in Vienna. Corrosion, a special method in anatomics, was their mutual hobby.

Moritz Holl, born in Vienna, who had worked in Vienna as a demonstrator with Hyrtl and Langer, the first one to describe the skeleton of the giant Haidl (in 1871), was head of the institute from 1882 – 1892. Among others Holl wrote an “Anthropology of the Tyrolean People”, moreover, he was the translator and editor of Leonardo da Vincis “Anatomy”. While he was head of the department, the new building of the Anatomical institute in the Müllerstraße (No. 59) was erected.

Wilhelm Roux, one of the first so-called “Entwicklungsmechaniker” (development mechanic) was head of the institute from 1889 – 1895. In 1895 he left Innsbruck for Halle/Saale which had then become famous because of the Meckel brothers.

Ferdinand Hochstetter was nominated head of the department in 1896. With his dissecting methods he was a direct forerunner of Gunther von Hagen. The anatomical atlas of Toldt-Hochstetter once was one of the standard works of this profession.

Formaldehyde, discovered by the Russian chemist Butlerow in 1855, meant a revolution in anatomical dissection and preparing and, actually, for every kind of scientific museum since from that time on it has been possible to fix, i.e., to preserve, biological objects by formalin.

Rudolf Fick
 who was head of the institute from 1909 – 1917 was especially interested in the mechanism of the joints. While he was in Innsbruck, World War I broke out (1914 -1918). In 1917 he left Innsbruck and went to Berlin.

From 1918 – 1946, for 29 years, Felix Sieglbauer who came from Vienna was head of the institute. During his time in Vienna he had operated with Eiselsberg, been demonstrator under Toldt, and, in Leipzig, assistant to C. Rabl. In Innsbruck he became professor in ordinary in 1918. Even today in our museum we keep quite a number of the charts he himself drew for his lessons. The large anatomical models in our collection he fabricated together with his preparator Franz Zima, many of the models we still keep are by Zimas hand.

Sieglbauers’ and Zimas’ knowledge and integrity saved the institute from the grasp of National Socialists. Sieglbauers “Normale Anatomie des Menschen” (Normal anatomy of the Human Being” appeared in nine editions (1st ed. 1927, 9th ed. 1963); his “Anatomische Zeichenmappen” (Maps of Anatomical Drawings) were fairly idolized. On December 15th, 1943, the institute was bombed and badly damaged. A major part of the building and the collection it housed, especially Sieglbauers’ anthropological collection of skulls and moulds, was destroyed.

When Sieglbauers’ pupil, Mag. pharm. Dr. phil. Dr. med Gustav Sauser from Wels who was, moreover a practitioner with his own consulting rooms, was head of the institute the building was reconstructed and modernized. The “Anatomical Theatre” now possessed about 250 seats and 100 standing-rooms. Prof. Sauser was both professor of anatomy and histology/embryology. Because of his very good contacts to the Roman Catholic Church he was able to secure a remarkable number of objects for his collection. Sauser was, moreover, extremely interested in anthropology (People from the Ötztal”, and artistic anthropology (“The anatomy of Gustinus Ambrosi”, “The Dance of the Dead” by Egger-Lienz, “Painted Skulls in Ossuaries”. Sauser unexpectedly died in 1968.

After an interim when the pathologist, Dr. Probst, fulfilled the role of head of the institute, Werner Platzer who came from Styria and at that time worked in Vienna was nominated head of the institute. Together with Leonhardt and Kahle he wrote the most widely known “Taschenatlas (pocket manual) of Anatomy”. During his years as head of the institute the cellars where the dead bodies are kept were reorganized, the museum extended and reconstructed and the “Anatomical Theatre” replaced by a larger, if windowless, auditorium for about 350 students. As leader of the budget commission he acquired considerable amounts of money for all parts of the Medical faculty.There was one event in the time when Platzer headed the institute that was more remarkable than everything else: the discovery of the “Ice-man”. The corpse of the “man from the Hauslabjoch” (the mountain pass where he was found) was kept for research work in the safety zone of the Institute of Anatomy of Innsbruck for about six years. After that he was transported to Bolzano where he is now exhibited in a special museum that is open to the public. 

After Platzer had retired, Helga Fritsch was appointed head of the anatomy. Since 1998 she has been head and managing director of the anatomical institute of Innsbruck. From 2003 – 2005 Prof. Fritsch was vice rector of the Medical University Innsbruck, belonging to its founder members and heading the department of teaching (science) and students’ affairs. During her time a special teaching department for medicine was established and several terms fitted into the new curriculum, and a professorship of neuroanatomy was founded and Lars Klimaschewskiappointed to this office. 

The building housing the institute of anatomy is constantly being modernized in order to keep pace with the current demands of teaching and research work and to be able successfully to position our traditionally well accepted institute in today’s globalized universitary surroundings, a building process in which those parts that have been classified as historical monuments are of course preserved.


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