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Reviewed by:
  • Diseases in Wax: The History of the Medical Moulage
  • Marc Micozzi
Thomas Schnalke. Diseases in Wax: The History of the Medical Moulage. Translated by Kathy Spatschek. Carol Stream, Ill.: Quintessence Books, 1995. 226 pp. Ill. $180.00.

This book traces the development of moulage as a technique of medical illustration that has advantages over various two-dimensional techniques. The author, a physician who specializes in the history of medicine, states that “moulages” always describe pathologic changes in the body, and as such were an important tool for the development of pathologic anatomy, with its paradigm of the localization of diseases in particular organs and tissues, and also for developing the taxonomy of the new field. There was also a long tradition of using moulages to illustrate childbirth for training purposes. Moulage had a particular application to dermatology, which, like ophthalmology, emphasizes the need for the power of observation of the clinician.

Schnalke traces the beginning of moulage making to ancient times, with documentation of the appearance of the deceased in the Egyptian civilization. A tradition of wax injection in anatomic preparations by early Italian (Bolognese and Florentine) and Dutch anatomists is seen as the beginning of the spread of the technique throughout Europe as applied to both the living and the dead. The work of individual practitioners such as Josef Benedikt Kuriger, Franz Heinrich Martens, Joseph Towne, Anton Elfinger, and Jules Pierre François Baretta is described in considerable technical and historic detail. Information about the larger context of the application of the technique of moulage and its influence on the development of the field of medicine can also be derived.

The practice of using wax models for teaching and medical illustration was further developed by Abraham Chovet (1704–90), who taught as a demonstrator in London, traveled through the West Indies, and arrived in Philadelphia in 1774. Chovet taught for more than a decade at the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) and elsewhere. After his death in 1790, Pennsylvania Hospital purchased his entire collection as the centerpiece of its new teaching museum. In 1824 the collection was taken over by the University of Pennsylvania medical faculty, and in 1851 it was transferred to the Wistar Museum, where most of it perished in the Medical Hall fire of 1888. In the meantime, Philadelphia had developed as the center of the American art of moulage.

In Europe, political and intellectual leaders such as Napoleon and Goethe called for further development of the technique because of its didactic value, especially in view of concerns about the utilization of human remains for teaching purposes. Goethe explained that a shortage of cadavers for anatomic purposes could become a serious threat to the population, citing reports from Scotland where the Resurrectionists had done mischief by offering anatomists “fresh corpses” from obscure sources. Today the medical moulages that have survived accidental loss and intentional destruction have largely made their way into the collections of museums—such as the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C., and the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, as well as museums in Paris, Vienna, London, and other locations in Europe. The technique has contemporary applications in the forensic sciences. Moulages [End Page 187] have also been used to further public health education in museums such as the Deutsches Hygiene Museum in Dresden and the National Museum of Health and Medicine (under direction of this reviewer) in recent years.

This book takes a largely descriptive and somewhat eclectic approach to this visual art, providing a compendium of details about the various schools of moulage and individual practitioners and preparations. The rationale for organization of the various topics is not always clear to the reader, and there are not many guideposts or bridges from one topic to another in the body of the text. The book is well illustrated from thirty-seven different sources in the United States and Europe, thanks to the guidance of experts in the field. Schnalke’s overall emphasis on individual practitioners (some of whom worked in secret), their schools, and their techniques (some of which died with their practitioners) serves to make the point that, like much of medicine, medical...

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