Ernst Adolf Coccius

1825 –1890

Contributed by Michael Saad, MD Cand

Ernst Adolf Coccius was born on September 19, 1825, in Knauthan, Germany, into a prestigious family. He and his younger brother, Theodor Coccius, were both successful within their respective fields of study. Coccius became a well-renowned ophthalmologist who had significant, innovative contributions to the field, while his brother Theodor was a skilled and well-known pianist.[1]

Coccius studied medicine across Europe in Leipzig, Prague, and Paris, finally earning his medical doctorate in 1848. After graduating, Coccius returned home to the city of Leipzig to work under Dr. Friedrich Philipp Ritterich at the Leipzig Eye Clinic. From 1849 to 1857, Coccius trained under the mentorship of Ritterich, who had previously worked with the notorious ophthalmologists Georg Beer and Johann Schmidt. Ritterich discovered amblyopia in the late 1850s and subsequently decreased his responsibilities in the clinic. Eventually, he was unable to continue practicing and passed on his duties to Coccius. In 1867, Coccius officially became director of the private clinic and took on professorship duties at the University of Leipzig.[1]

In 1853, Coccius published an article that described the innovative ophthalmoscope he designed, which was an improvement from the original design by Hermann Helmholtz. In this article, Coccius documents the first sighting of a retinal tear with his ophthalmoscope and proposed an association with retinal detachment.

Coccius remained in his positions as clinic director and professor until he died in 1890. His devotion to and advances in the field are remarkable.[1]



Published “Ueber die Anwendung des Augenspiegels Nebst Angabe Eines Neuen” where he described his innovative Ophthalmoscope

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Described retinal breaks and documented their association with retinal detachments

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Published “Ueber Glaucom, Entzündung und die Autopsie mit dem Augenspiegel”, depicting glaucoma and post-mortem ocular findings using his ophthalmoscope

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Appointed director of the Leipzig Eye Clinic

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Published “Der Mechanismus der Accommodation des menschlichen Auges: nach Beobachtungen im Leben dargestellt” to depict accommodation of the human eye

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Academic Appointment

1849 to 1857

  • Worked under Dr. Friedrich Philipp Ritterich at the Leipzig Eye Clinic

1867 to 1890

  • Director of the Leipzig Eye Clinic

1867 to 1890

  • Professor at the University of Leipzig

Education & Training

Medical training in Leipzig, Prague, and Paris, 1844-1848

Photo Gallery

An illustration of Coccius’ ophthalmoscope design, depicted with a source of light, from his 1853 publication.
Photo credit:
Original photo derived from “Ueber die Anwendung des Augen-Spiegels, Nebst Angabe Eines Neuen Instrumentes”. Digitalized by the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.


  1. Pagel, Julius Leopold, „Coccius, Ernst Adolf“, in: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (1903), S. [Onlinefassung]; Translated to English.
  2. Coccius, Ernst Adolf, 1825-1890, “An early ophthalmoscope with source of light shown,” The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library, accessed August 25, 2022,