Born in Torun (present day Poland) to German parents, Soemmering, after receiving his M.D. at Göttingen in 1778, taught and practised medicine at various German cities and universities, including Kassel and Mainz. While at Kassel, Soemmering engaged in comparative physical anthropology, based on a study of a local community of negroes. An essay of 1788 demonstrated how the wearing of tight corsets deformed the thorax and abdomen in women. Besides his own writings, he also edited works by Haller and Camper. Soemmering's particular interest in the anatomy of the brain is reflected in his doctoral dissertation, De basi encephali. In this work Soemmering correctly classified the cranial nerves into twelve pairs, a system that eventually replaced that of ten pairs established by Thomas Willis. The four plates, drawn by Soemmering himself, and engraved by C.C. Glassbach, are notable for their detail and accuracy.