George Bartisch

Ophthalmodouleia, That is the Service of the Eye.

Oost­ende, Belgium, J.‑P. Wayenborgh, 1996. c.612 Pages, index, hardcover. US$ 450,-


REVIEWED BY MARK J. MANNIS Sacramento, California


In 1583, when GEORGE BARTISCH completed Ophthalmodouleia, he published both the first sys­tematic work on ocular disease and ophthalmic surgery as well as the first ophthalmic atlas with the inclusion of 92 full page woodcuts depicting eye disease, surgi­cal methodology, and instrumentation. Many of us are familiar with several of these famous woodcuts that are commonly reproduced on book covers, frontispieces, and posters. Produced by Hans Hewamaul, the woodcuts are thought to be based on watercolors painted by George Bartisch himself.

As Volume Three of the History of Ophthalmology Monograph series, J.‑P. Wayenborgh Press has re­leased a lavish, translated reproduction of this classic text, complete with beautiful color prints of the original woodcuts. Translated by Donald L. Blanchard, MD, from the vernacular German dialect in which it was written, this translation represents a major achievement of modern historical scholarship. Dr Blanchard's remarkable translation affords the English speaking ophthalmologist the possibility (for the first time in 400 years since its original publica­tion) of appreciating this unique classic that compre­hensively depicts the practice of ophthalmology in the 16th century and that, to some extent, established ophthalmology as a distinct medical and surgical specialty.

Born to a poor family, George Bartisch served apprenticeships, practiced as an itinerant surgeon, and eventually settled in Dresden, establishing him­self by achievement and reputation as a skilled ophthalmic clinician and ultimately rising to the position of court oculist to Duke Augustus I of Saxony. His work reflects a tremendous breadth of knowledge based on experience and observation and mixed with an interesting component of superstition that was, of course, part of the fabric of his time and experience, superstition notwithstanding, this mile­stone work in the history of medicine and ophthal­mology underscores Bartisch's skill as a master of empirical learning rather than his adherence to the quackery of traditional scholars of medicine of the day.

The book is organized appropriately beginning with head and eye anatomy and proceeding to strabismus, cataracts, external disease, and trauma. There is also a chapter on injuries and defects re­sulting from magic and witchcraft. The chapters are generally formulaic, each including a description of the disorder, followed by a discussion of the disease, a list of largely herbal prescriptions, and ultimately, surgical approaches. The Wayenborgh reproduction has preserved the Germanic font in which the original appeared. Although this adds beauty and authenticity to the appearance of this large format volume, some modern readers interested in the text per se may find this aspect of the publication some­what distracting. The prints are magnificently reproduced in beautiful tones, and the publisher has even faithfully included the two woodcuts that appeared originally with overlays demonstrating layered anatomy of the brain and eye.

Ophthalmodouleia remains a pivotal work of mod­ern ophthalmology. Dr. Blanchard is to be congratu­lated on a remarkable and finely executed piece of scholarship. We owe our thanks also to J.P. Wayenborgh for making available in the English language this cornerstone work of ophthalmology by the man who might be considered the father of our specialty. It is, in every sense, a gem.

American Journal of Ophthalmology 1997,123:146-147


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Ophthalmodouleia, That is the Service of the Eyes

by Georg Bartisch, translated by Don­ald Blanchard, MD, vol. 3 of a series entitled Hirschberg History of Oph­thalmology: The Monographs, $450, 612 pp, with illustr, Ostend, Belgium, J. P. Wayenborgh Press, 1996.

Georg Bartisch (1535‑1606) was apprenticed to a barber surgeon as a 13‑year‑old boy. He took a par­ticular interest in diseases of the eye and over the years made him­self into a specialist. In his 40s Bartisch put his special knowledge into this book, apparently doing the illustrations himself, and in 1583, it was printed for him by Matthes Stöckel of Dresden. His book was widely read by physi­cians and students, and its very existence suggested that it might be possible to make a career out of "the service of the eyes." In 1588, at the age of 53, Bartisch was appointed court oculist to the Elector of Saxony, an important position for someone who had started out as an unlettered barber surgeon.

Bartisch based his method of eye care on an effort to understand the anatomy, physiology, and op­tics of the eye. His anatomical plates are famous for flaps that can be lifted to reveal the next layer. He distinguished different kinds of cata­racts according to their color (white, blue, gray, green, yellow, and black). He described cataract couching and its complications, and he recom­mended several different kinds of eyelid surgery. He had suggestions for the management of exophthal­mos ( "unnaturally large, wide eyes") and he recommended masks for the correction of misaligned eyes. Bartisch was strongly opposed to the itinerant oculists of the day, and he was not fond of the new fashion of using spectacles, he could not imagine how an eye that was already seeing poorly could ever see better when something was placed in front of it. Once Johannes Kepler (1571 to 1630) showed that the retina was the percipient surface, and the lens and cornea were the refracting media, the eye was gradually con­ceded to be an optical instrument, and the rational use of glasses became appreciated.

Bartisch's book has survived the centuries because it was often val­ued as a physical object and care­fully protected and preserved. The book was artfully printed and beau­tifully illustrated with about 90 full ­page woodcuts. An original copy of Bartisch's book, if you can find one, can be bought today for about the price of a new car.

Shortly after 1583, the plates in a few new copies of the book were carefully colored by hand. One of these is at Duke University, and one such copy was donated by Emile Ja­val (1839 to 1907) to the French Oph­thalmological Society. This copy was loaned to the publisher so that color reproductions of the plates could be put into Dr Blanchard's new trans­lation.

Dr Blanchard is an ophthal­mologist in Portland, Ore, and he has spent a good deal of his spare time over the last decade working on this translation. When looking at Bartisch's Augendienst, you begin to understand why it has never before been translated into English; the herbal prescriptions are colloquial and the German is a 16th‑century dialect. Dr Blan­chard has had to develop a genu­ine expertise in the archaic com­mon names for plants.

This is a beautifully made book. It is exactly the same size as the origi­nal. The typography is in a gothic Old English that echoes the black let­ter fraktur typeface of the German original. Fraktur was never strong on legibility and its Old English cousin is not much better. But this is not a book for speed reading, and I find the gothic typeface attractive. The book is printed on acid free paper, and the layout of the English text copies the original German text ex­actly, line for line‑obviously a la­bor of love. Bartisch's words have been made accessible to English readers for the first time, and it is gratifying that they have been kept in visual harmony with the original German words.

The color plates are very nicely done; photographed and computer balanced, they really dress up the book. Anyone with a shred of interest in how ophthal­mology got started in western Europe would love to own this volume. You had better get your copy of this sumptuous book as soon as possible.

H. Stanley Thompson, MD Iowa City, Iowa

Archives of Ophthalmology 1997, 115:296


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