Museum Vrolik (AMC Amsterdam) is one of Amsterdam’s most interesting and unique exhibition spaces, but it is not one for the faint of heart. Based in the Academic Medical Centre (AMC) of Amsterdam, the museum is recommended for those with inquisitive medical minds and those with strong stomachs.
Gerard and Willem Vrolik
The museum space is named after father and son team, Gerard and Willem Vrolik, who both served as Professors of Anatomy in Amsterdam. During his studies, Gerard specialised in obstetrics, becoming the first doctor of his type in the Netherlands. During this time he developed a keen interest in birth defects and developmental malformations in humans, animals and plants. He also began collecting and preserving specimens. Willem followed in his father’s footsteps by developing an interest in anatomy, as well as a curiosity about natural history and the origin of species. Many of the exhibits in the collection were originally stored in the Vrolik’s family home.
The Museum Vrolik van het AMC Amsterdam is most famous for its collection of anatomical specimens, including a large number which are stored in formaldehyde jars. There are over 10,000 specimens in the collection. The specimens in the museum cover approximately 150 years of medical history, and include both “normal” and “abnormal” specimens. One display shows examples of foetal development during various stages of a normal pregnancy, whilst other areas of the museum show rare examples of babies born with severe defects, including conjoined twins, dwarfism, cyclopia, sironomelia (Mermaid Syndrome) and foetus’ with severe spina bifida.
The Vrolik family’s collection has been supplemented by collections from Jacob Hovius (who collected skeletons with bone defects) and Andreas Bonn (who studied defects at more advanced stages). There are also specimens from the collections of various other Dutch academics.
As well as human anatomy, there are also plenty of specimens on show from the animal kingdom as well. Willem was close friends with a zookeeper in the city and acquired a large number of specimens from him. It is possible to see things as diverse as a lion which once belonged to King Louis Napoleon, the heart of a python and the eye of a whale.
The museum is open from Monday to Friday, from 10 am until 5pm. Although admission is free, donations are appreciated by the museum, which use the money to cover overhead costs incurred by displaying the pieces. Tours are available for school groups upon request, but must be booked ahead.
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