The museum of anatomy in Innsbruck

Managing director o.Univ. Prof. Dr. med. univ. Helga Fritsch

Custos Romed Hörmann

Open Thursday 3,30 - 6 o’clock p.m. and by previous appointment 

Groups and guided tours
by previous appointment

The university of Innsbruck, founded by the emperor Leopold I, started its first lectures in 1672. 
The first anatomical professorship was given to Prof. Theodor Friedrich von STADTLENDER on April 22th 1689. 

The most important instrument for instructions in anatomy was then, as it is today, the human body. The„Letztwillige Verfügung“, i.e. the disposition of one’s body by will, did not exist in the 17th century. Therefore it was quite a problem to procure corpses and opportunities for dissection, the more so since the dissecting of people was thought to be a sin by many people. One possibility to get suitable corpses for dissection, however, there was: the anatomy professor could try to acquire from the hangman the dead bodies of persons who had been sentenced to death (death penalty being the customary punishment then for many crimes).

Shortly after Statlender had been appointed head of the anatomical institute, he got the chance to buy a corpse from the hangman. One of the servants of the duke, the Wardein (i. e. the person who was responsible for the quality of the minted coins) of the Mint in Hall (Johann Voglsanger), had been sentenced to death for embezzlement and arson (a girl died in the flames). So the Wardein was sentenced to death by decollation, and his body was to be burnt afterwards. But the gubernator, DUKE KARL OF LOTHRINGEN, assented to the petition of the anatomical faculty to be given the dead body: “Since the facultas medica has submissively asked for the subject to be handed over to them for anatomical purposes and the fabrication of a skeleton, and because of personal interventions in favour of the condemned, his most gracious Highness will revoke the punishment of combustion, and the body will, after decapitation, be given over to the said faculty.”

So the medical faculty had its first corpse for dissecting – and an ANATOMIA PUBLICA was organized, even to the extent of sending out invitations to witness it. After the public dissection a skeleton was fabricated for the collection of the house. That meant that the soft parts of the corpse had to be removed as far as possible, the bones cleaned by decomposition of the remaining flesh and bleached and the fat removed before the skeleton could be reconstructed.

Today, more than 300 years later, of this skeleton only a literary trace has remained. The way of how it was prepared is here described in detail because it shows how preparations were done at that time in Middle and Southern Europe, and the technique is, together with the preparation technique, the oldest method in anatomy altogether. We should, however, bear in mind that VESALIUS, the founder of the modern anatomy, already possessed a skeleton about one hundred years earlier, a skeleton that is still to be seen in the so-called VESALIANUM in Basel. 

In the 17th and 18th century the anatomy was located in the ground floor of the old university building (which today is the Theological Faculty of the University of Innsbruck), and so was the museum, the “THESAURUS ANATOMICUS” (the anatomist’s treasure). The collection contained mainly bones - dry preparations and specimens done by CORROSION. In the 18th century there were no wet preparations of long durability since formaldehyde that makes it possible to preserve corpses and do wet preparations was discovered by the Russian chemist Butlerow as late as 1855.

Since accommodations were less than adequate (the rooms were small, one actually being a billard-room) the professors of the department of anatomy, among them Hieronymus BACCHETONI (1737 – 1749) and especially Karl DANTSCHER (1846 – 1882) strived to get a building, and that meant a THEATRUM ANATOMICUM1, of their own.

Unfortunately Prof. Dantscher did not live long enough (he died in 1887) to witness the erection of the new building. Of his preparations one only has survived: the so called DANTSCHER-kidneys – the kidneys of a cow. That Prof. Dantscher had to use a cow’s kidneys shows that even in the 19th century corpses for dissecting were hard to come by. Therefore the professors had to make do with an ANATOMIA ANIMALIS.

Like his contemporary Joseph HYRTL (a renowned anatomist in Vienna, 1811 – 1894) Dantscher was a wizard in fabricating corrosion preparations. To him who was called “the father of the faculty” our institute is indebted for the acquisition of the skeleton of the “giant of the castle”, Nikolaus Haidl.

From 1887 (86) to 1889 the Anatomical Institute (its foundations are still extant today) was built while Moritz HOLL was head of the institute (from 1882 – 1892). It was sufficient for about 100 students and “… there did already exist a rather well equipped and fully furnished anatomical museum …”

The dry preparations done by Ferdinand HOCHSTETTER (1896 – 1908) the manufacturing of which is just being investigated well deserve to be mentioned especially (Photo V aus Powerpoint-Präsentation Dr. Mager), as well as the preparations done by Prof. Felix SIEGLBAUER and his preparatory Franz ZIMA. There are still black-and-white photographs existing of nearly all of these preparations (album in the possession of Franz Zima’s son).

On December 15th, 1943, the institute was bombed and badly damaged. About the third part of the building and half of the collection it housed, especially Sieglbauer’s anthropological collection of skulls, was destroyed.

More heavily than the loss of the collection, however, weighed the deaths of the janitor of the institute and his three children. Only his wife survived the bombing.


Sieglbauer stood before the ruins of „his“ house, as he wrote. He stayed in office until 1946 and was then followed by Gustav SAUSER who was also very intent on improving the museum. The painted skulls which have been objects of intense studies until today (!) are very valuable because of their importance as witnesses of cultural history. They stem from different mountain regions of Austria, mostly from Hallstatt (Upper Austria) and the Paznaun Valley (Tyrol).

When Prof. Sauser died unexpectedly, Prof. Werner PLATZER became his successor. Sauser had seen to it that the institute was extended and redesigned after the bombing, but still it could no longer hold the number of students. 
Prof. Platzer, too, was very interested in the museum. New glass cases were bought and the collection became accessible to the public. The whole reconstruction of the institute happened under his supervision.

After Platzer had retired, for the first time in the history of the anatomical institute a woman was appointed to the position of director: Helga FRITSCH, M.D. 

Karl Mager
Photography Romed Hörmann and Markus Bstieler