In their portraits, scholars often surround themselves with objects such as books and written documents. However, collectibles and scientific instruments also serve to embellish the portraits, offering revelations about the individual portrayed.
Here you can see three of Göttingen's 18th Century scientists presenting themselves with artefacts that give clear indication of their chosen area of research. Simultaneously, the value assigned to objects indicates a revolution in the way science thought about itself.

A NEW ROLE MODEL FOR SCIENCE The Age of Enlightenment focused on material objects and made them the central focus point of scientific research. Knowledge about nature should not only be taught by means of classical texts, but also through observation and by means of measuring devices and experiments. Due to the involvement with the material world, nature and culture became important subjects for this newly acquired research methodology.

BETWEEN RESEARCH AND SELF-PORTRAYAL The relationship between the objects and the individuals portrayed is different in each of the three selected images. While the portrait of Johann Georg Roederer (1726-1763), professor of obstetrics, exhibits a new research programme, the image of Christian Wilhelm Büttner (1716-1801), professor of natural history, depicts the collector's biography more obliquely through scholarly riddles.

The medal in the portrait of Baron von Asch (1729-1807) promotes his work as a physician at the court of Catherine the Great (1729-1796)

Georg Thomas von Asch
Medal of the the General Field Marshal


Even though Georg von Asch had only come to Göttingen for his studies, he maintained a close relationship with the Georgia Augusta throughout his life. Due to his position as a doctor in the medical administration of the Tsarist Empire in 1763, he was able to send a multitude of objects to Göttingen. The objects spread out on the table such as the medals, the seal box as well as the rolled papers are hints of this endowment. He even bequeathed the portrait itself to his alma mater. The medal demonstratively held up by von Asch shows the general field marshal Aleksamdrovic Rumjančev (1725-1796) whom he served under as doctor for the troops during the war between Russia and Turkey. The gesture is supposed to support von Ash’s claim of having curbed the plague epidemic solely by his own measures.


Christian Wilhelm Büttner, who was appointed to work in Göttingen as a professor for natural science in 1763, was not only a versatile scholar but also a passionate collector.
In 1773 he bequeathed the University around 12,000 objects from his natural history collection in exchange for a life annuity. The objects were collectibles gathered from almost all areas of nature and culture. The objects depicted in the portrait not only show the breadth of his collection but also hint at his scientific work methods and include hidden biographical clues. Büttner’s portrait is a scholarly picture puzzle that engages the viewer in a game of double meanings, ambiguous references and subtle connections.

Christian Wilhelm Büttner
The Oil Beetle
An Essay towards the natural history of the Earth
The Scale
The Plum

Johann Georg Roederer
Typical Positioning of the Hand


The portrait was created in 1751, shortly before Johann Roederer was appointed to work in Göttingen as an obstetrician. Demonstrating a stretched-out thumb and index finger are common indicators for the positioning of the hand during vaginal examinations of pregnant women. The bone identifies him as a doctor whose skill is based on exact anatomical knowledge. The book “Haller Icones” is a reference to Göttingen’s natural scientist Albrecht von Haller (1708-1777) who helped Roederer to obtain a professorship.
The portrait visualises Roederer’s research program in the new subject obstetrics. Measuring methods, anatomical knowledge and personal perception justify the new medical discipline to his male colleagues. With the new subject and its further institutionalisation, midwives were gradually pushed to the margins. They were replaced by the male obstetricians.

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