gms | German Medical Science

14. Grazer Konferenz – Qualität der Lehre: New Horizons in Teaching and Learning

22. - 24.04.2010, Wien, Österreich

Guided tour of the department of history of medicine including its collection of anatomical and obstetric wax models


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  • corresponding author presenting/speaker Sonja Horn - Medical University of Vienna, Department of History of Medicine, Vienna, Austria

14. Grazer Konferenz – Qualität der Lehre: New Horizons in Teaching and Learning. Wien, Österreich, 22.-24.04.2010. Düsseldorf: German Medical Science GMS Publishing House; 2010. Doc10grako10

doi: 10.3205/10grako10, urn:nbn:de:0183-10grako108

Published: November 18, 2010

© 2010 Horn.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( You are free: to Share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, provided the original author and source are credited.


The Building: The "Josephinum" was designed by the architect Isidore Canevale (1730 - 1786). Apart from a part of the Hofburg- Castle located on Josephsplatz, the Josephinum is the only major construction of the period of Emperor Joseph II. The era of Joseph II marks the highlight of the age of enlightenment in Austrian history.

The spirit of enlightenment is reflected in the architecture of the buildings: large windows, bright rooms and an emphasis on proportions were supposed to support the efforts of both teachers and students. The furniture was designed to fit the architecture. In order to meet the requirements of a medical school of its day, a botanical garden was included as well as a state of the art library and a collection of wax models.

The Library: The library of the former Medical-Surgical Academy was founded in 1785. According to reports in 1785, this collection then possessed about 10,000 volumes. The books came from various sources. Some were bought for this newly founded library and some were published specifically for teaching purposes at the Academy.

Giovanni Alessandro Brambilla, the first director of the Academy, donated about 400 books from his private collection. As part of the reforms of Emperor Joseph II, several monasteries were closed and the books from their usually very rich libraries were handed over to universities and other educational institutions, such as the Academy. Finally Emperor Joseph II donated many books which he himself had received as gifts to this library.

Today the collection holds about 6,000 books published before 1800. The library's oldest book dates back to 1478 and 19 further incunabula complete this collection of works published before 1500.

The Wax-Collection: This famous collection of anatomical and obstetrical wax models can be traced back to an initiative by Emperor Joseph II. Joseph II, who was enthusiastic about Felice Fontana's wax models at the "Reale Museo di Fisica e Storia Naturale" ("La Specola") in Florence, ordered a collection of anatomical and obstetrical wax models for a future medical-surgical academy in Vienna.

These models were made under the supervision of the anatomist Paolo Mascagni in Florence between 1784 and 1788. After laborious transport, the 1,192 different wax specimens finally came to Vienna. They were intended for use in instruction at the medical-surgical academy, but were also shown to the public. The wax models were exhibited in show cases made of rosewood and Venetian glass with enclosed explanations in Italian and German in seven rooms at the Academy.

Today the collection is housed in six rooms at the Josephinum. The highlights of this collection are two models that can be taken apart completely: a model of the heart and of the female body, the so-called "Medicean Venus".