Skip to content

I’m just back from a conference in Dresden. The Deutsches Hygiene-Museum, home to the wonderful transparent man (and woman), hosted a conference looking at wax moulages.

Moulages are based on casts taken directly from patients, which are then moulded in wax to present case studies of particular diseases, especially dermatological conditions. Each one has its own medical and cultural story to tell, at once a medical specimen, an individual’s history as a patient, and cultural artefact.


These examples are from our collection, and were part of a touring anatomical show in the 1920s.  These ‘before and after’ waxes show the effects of Salvarsan, the ‘magic bullet’ which was the first effective treatment for syphilis.

One of the great things about the conference was the sense that all kinds of people are getting interested in moulages again. The Charité Museum in Berlin is working on a project documenting moulage collections, while the Hôpital St Louis has its collections online. But also at the conference were people reviving the craft skills and not only preserving but making new moulages. Dermatologists use them to teach students about once common diseases which are now rare and you can even buy bleeding moulages for casualty simulations. Or perhaps Hallowe’en…

It’s great to see the value of items that for while looks like they might be considered as historical ‘curiosities’ being recognised again.

One comment on “The Old Is New Again

  1. A small local museum has a smallpox moulage which I remember vividly seeing as a child. 20 years later as a museum studies student I ended up researching its history as part of an internship! They are completely fascinating and I haven’t been able to shake my morbid curiosity about them. Throughout my studies I am finding more and more small collections of moulages popping up here and there. I keep meaning to suggest it as a PhD topic to someone (maybe I might end up doing it myself!)

Comments are closed.