Accepted paper:

The display that makes you sick: the haunting pedagogy of medical moulages


Cristiana Bastos (Universidade de Lisboa)

Paper short abstract:

In the context of discussing museums as healing devices, I review the strategies of display in a variety of health museums in Europe, analyse the uses of medical moulages, and illustrate with a contemporary exhibit of original moulages from an early 20th century syphilis clinic.

Paper long abstract:

If museums are meant to be healing in a variety of ways -- by improving the cognitive capacities of their visitors and restoring their attention skills, by strengthening the self-esteem of communities via the celebration of heritage, or by promoting the recovery from trauma via the expression of memory - there are collections literally related to health and healing. The questions are whether, how, to what extent and in which ways the exhibition of medical, pharmaceutical, nursing or public health collections fulfils a healing agenda. This paper addresses those questions by reviewing the past and contemporary trends on European health museums and by focusing on the uses of medical moulages. Anatomical wax models, at once an art form and a learning device, became most notorious in 18th century Tuscany, from where come the famous collections of La Specola (Florence), Poggi (Bologna) or the Josephinum (Vienna). In the 19th century, the technique reached another level of artistic realism when used for morbid anatomy, creating impressive collections of haunting models that exist up to our days in a number of European cities. Some of the most expressive moulages represent advanced stages of syphillis and other VDs in actual patients, their sight often causing discomfort and potentially used as negative model. In this paper I will review the strategies via which moulages are exhibited in different European museums and report the experience of a particularly haunting collection of moulages created on a syphilis clinic in Lisbon in the 1930s-40s.

panel Muse002
The healing museum: achievable reality or utopian dream?