The Original Illustration of the Sanctorian Chair, see: Sanctorius, Sanctorius (1625): Commentaria in primam Fen primi libri Canonis Avicennae. Venetiis: apud Iacobum Sarcinam, p. 557. Source: © British Library Board (General Reference Collection 542.h.11, p. 557).


Despite the early emergence of balances and practices of weighing, it was only at the turn of the seventeenth century that they were applied to the human body. During this time, the physician Sanctorius Sanctorius (1561–1636) devised a special weighing chair to undertake a series of weighing experiments to measure and to quantify physiological processes. As trivial as quantitative assessment with regard to health issues might seem to us today, it was a highly innovative step at the time. By experimenting with the weighing chair, Sanctorius introduced the idea of quantitative research into physiology.


Portrait of Sanctorius Sanctorius. Source: By kind permission of Comune di Padova - Assessorato alla Cultura


Skull of Sanctorius Sanctorius. Source: By kind permission of Università degli Studi di Padova.

Historical accounts of Sanctorius and his work tend to present him as the inventor of a new medical science that profoundly changed modernity. Measurement and quantification became important parameters of medical research and numerical values and mechanical aspects were increasingly applied in this field. Given the important role that Sanctorius holds in these accounts, it is striking that the reception of Sanctorius’s ideas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the historical accounts of his work lack a profound discussion of the design of his weighing chair and of the measuring method he applied to the weighing experiments. This project addresses this gap. In collaboration with the workshops of the Technical University of Berlin (Institute of Vocational Education and Work Studies), we reconstructed the weighing chair of Sanctorius. In a second step, we experimented with our reconstruction and constantly adapted and improved it according to the experiences that we gained in the process. We did so in the context of a seminar that was held as part of the curriculum of the History of Science Department at the Technical University of Berlin. This allowed us to develop a new perspective on Sanctorius’s undertakings and made us reconsider the function and purpose of the Sanctorian chair.

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Hollerbach, T. (2018). The weighing chair of Sanctorius Sanctorius: a replica. NTM: Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Wissenschaften, Technik und Medizin, 1-29. doi:10.1007/s00048-018-0193-z.

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Related Projects

Reconstruction of the Sanctorian Chair: A Photo Diary

Click on the pictures to open the slideshow


Getting Started: Working Plan and Simulation Test

Work in the Workshop Part 1

Work in the Workshop Part 2 and First Results

Experimenting with Reconstruction