Midwiferie: Late Period Obstetrics

In stark contrast to early and middle period obstetrics and gynecology, late period* midwiferie enjoyed improved anatomical knowledge and valuable illustrations.  (Late period is defined here as late fifteenth century through the end of SCA period/ early renaissance).

Albertus Magnus (b. ca. 1193, d. 1280), in his de animalibus, provided rich illustrations that are especially notable for their exploration of the phenomena of multiple births.  This manuscript is housed at the Biblioteque Nationale Paris.  This early example was an amalgamation and reinterpretation of Aristotle’s earlier works on the natural world and biology, upon which Magnus provided commentary and interpretation.  Compare these examples to the following below.

The full folio can be viewed here



Fasciculus Medicinae, Vienna, 1491

“Fasciculus Medicinae” translates to “little bundle of medicine.” This collection of medical treatises by various authors was printed in 1491 with many editions to follow.  This collection is widely considered one of the first medical textbooks.  Of marked importance, Fasciculus included the first printed scene of human dissection.  The paradigm shift in scientific investigations into the human body taking place in this 1491 publication cannot be overstated. No longer would the womb wander the body, but would be understood in the context of human organ systems.  Read more about this amazing text, and browse various editions via the New York Academy of Medicine’s digital collections.


Jakob Rueff, de conceptu et generatione hominis, 1554

Jakob Rueff/ Ruff is probably best known for training the midwives of Zurich in the sixteenth century.  Born ca. 1500, he built a life in Zurich where he became known as a doctor, surgeon, as well as poet and writer.  His medical writings, of primary importance for our purposes here, include texts on tumors and blood letting in addition to his more well known writing on obstetrics.  His midwifery handbook, de conceptu et generatione hominis, was published in 1554 simultaneously in latin and german.  Rueff was made responsible for training all the midwives in Zurich, and his text required reading to practice in the field.

The anatomical illustrations from de conceptu are truly the things medieval medicine dreams are made of.



For more examples, you can check out my Pinterest board  Medieval Medicine: Midwiferie.


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