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WELHAVEN, Johan Ernst (1775–1828)

Beskrifning öfver de spetälske i S:t Jörgens hospital i staden Bergen i Norrige. In Svenska Läkare Sällskapets Handlingar, vol. III.
[Stockholm, A. Gadelius, 1816].

Unique iconography of leprosy. St Jörgen’s Hospital in Bergen, Norway, is one of the oldest hospitals in Scandinavia, founded already in the early fifteenth century. It was a leprosy hospital, where the last patients died in 1946. In 1816 the Swedish Society of Medicine received a report by Dr.Thulstrup regarding the conditions at St. Jörgen’s, where leprous patients of both sexes and various ages were kept together. It was written and sent in by Johan Ernst Welhaven, father of the famous Norwegian poet. Since 1801 he served as priest at the hospital. In 1815 there were 66 patients and Welhaven tried his best to alleviate the miserable conditions among the totally poverty-stricken lepers. His call for help among the citizens of Bergen resulted in 1814 in a sum of Rdr. 9650, and from then on gifts in form of food, clothes and medicines arrived regularly every week. Also charity fairs and theatre performances were arranged for the relief of the poor patients. Welhaven’s detailed report of the disease and the individual life-destinies gives a horrible picture of these outcasts of society. The report was accompanied by 32 hand-coloured drawings, 28 of which are full-figure portraits of the patients. The superb drawings must be the work of a most talented artist, possibly Welhaven himself. They were, however, never engraved, printed or published, but are here bound into a volume together with the printed report extracted from the Transactions. It was at St. Jörgen’s Hospital that Danielssen and Boeck began their studies of leprosy which resulted in their epoch-making work on leprosy in 1847 with its extremely fine atlas in folio with 24 lithographed colour-plates. In 1873, stimulated by the work of Danielssen and Boeck, their assistant, Henrik Armauer Hansen, discovered the lepra bacillus, one of the earliest observations of pathogenic bacteria.

Collation: Pp 188–220 extracted from Svenska Läkare Sällskapets Handlingar, volume III. With 32 inserted plates with original hand-coloured ink drawings (28 portraits of leprous patients and 4 showing different parts of the body) as well as blank leaves to fill out the volume, seven of which has hand written additional notes by Welhaven.

Binding: Contemporary calf, with the gilt stamp of Sv. Läkare Sälllskapet on front cover.

References: Hagelin SLS, pp 146-49.

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