The History of Signs of Death
– Thu 23 May, 11:30 – 13:00

#1 Presenter: Prof. Em. Jørgen Lange Thomsen
Dept. of Forensic Medicine, University of Southern Denmark.

How did the Danish Kings die? (45 min.)
It is a skill of the forensic profession (
retsmedicin) to analyze fatalities with reference to cause and manner of death. I have studied the death of Danish kings starting with the Viking era, looking into their life and possible symptoms of disease. Based upon my findings I shall describe the disease pattern in a number of selected kings. 

The most conspicuous finding was the total absence of symptoms or violence in half of the early kings – they died suddenly and unexpectedly. I have formed the theory that these cases of sudden death are due to a chromosomal mutation resulting in cardiac death (channelopathy). By autosomal, dominant inheritance it is inherited in 50 percent of the descendants.

The theory is supported by the fact that this type of death disappeared completely, when almost all of the royal DNA was exchanged by Christian I taking over the throne in 1448.

#2 Presenter: Dr. Jan Bondeson, MD, MSc, PhD (lic.scient.)
Clinical Senior Lecturer, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, Wales.

Buried Alive: The history of the signs of death and the risk of a premature burial (45 min.)
Readers of the tales of Edgar Allan Poe may comfort themselves with the notion that he must have exaggerated: Surely people of the 1800s could not have been at a risk of being buried alive? But such reports filled medical journals as well as popular fiction, and fear among the populace was high.

This talk will describe the medical and folkloristic aspects of the fear of a premature burial: bizarre security coffins with bell-ropes and escape hatches, waiting mortuaries for decaying corpses to ensure death was certain before burial, and the search for an infallible sign of death. And are the present-day stratagems for determining death totally reliable?

The Art of Medical Moulages
– Thu 23 May, 11:30 – 13:00

#1 Presenter: Eva Åhrén, PhD
Director, Unit for Medical History and Heritage, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.

Moulage Collections in the Nordic Countries (30 min.)
In 2016, scholars in the Nordic countries came together, at a Danish initiative, to study moulage collections in dermatological departments, museums, and in private ownership. This paper will describe the results from Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, and present the contents, history, and current state of the moulage collections.

It will also discuss the cultural, historical particularities and significance of the moulages, focusing on those that are unique and locally manufactured. The research will hopefully generate more scholarship on the subject and increase awareness of the artistic and historical value of these collections.

  • “Ylppö’s children” is a collection of moulages made in Berlin 1918-1920 by artist Annie Müllensiefen for Finnish pediatrician Arvo Ylppö. Eighty of the moulages, depicting a range of transmissible diseases including tuberculosis, syphilis, and poxes affecting infants, survive at the Helsinki University Museum. They have previously been on display in popular exhibitions as well as teaching collections.
  • Danish artist and Panoptikon director Theodor Edelmann made moulages for the Finsen Institute of Medical Light in Copenhagen in 1900-1930. Nobel Laureate Niels Finsen initiated the making of moulages of patients treated for skin diseases, mostly lupus vulgaris. Today, sixty-seven moulages survive in the collections of the Medical Museion, but the patient records are lost.
  • The Bergen Leprosy Museum holds thirty-one moulages of patients’ faces and limbs. Eighteen of these were donated by German dermatologist Oscar Lassar, and probably made by the mouleur Heinrich Kasten. Leprosy specialists Daniel Cornelius Danielssen and Gerhard Armauer Hansen made Bergen an international center of leprosy research, but nothing is known about their use of moulages.
  • Stockholm’s mothballed Medical History Museum has a collection of more than three hundred moulages in storage. Many of these dermatological and venerological moulages were bought from German mouleurs, e.g. Fritz Kolbow, and used in medical education at Karolinska Institutet and S:t Göran’s Hospital. Some were made locally by a Dr. M. Nelken, who collaborated with dermatology professor Johan Almkvist.

Ref: Worm AM, Sinisalo H, Eilertsen G, Åhrén E, Meyer I: Dermatological moulage collections in the Nordic countries. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2018 Apr;32(4):570-580.

#2 Presenter: Prof. Dr. Thomas Schnalke
Berlin Museum of Medical History at the Charité, Germany.

Directed Views: Focusing patients and diseases in medical moulages (30 min.)

From its very beginnings on, medicine has tried very successfully to direct and focus the view of the viewers by its ingenious image worlds: beneath the skin into the depths of a highly functional “body machinery” consisting of organs and tissues, as well as onto the skin to study surfaces and formations especially of typical signs of diseases. The findings have been documented in a large variety of different media and materials – drawn, printed, photographed, scanned and animated with the help of servers and clouds, but also kept in 3D as true dry and wet specimens or as replicas made from plaster, wood, papier mâché, plastics or wax.

In my talk I will focus on the steering of the medical gaze referring to wax models, anatomical and pathological specimens and especially to clinical moulages in former times. This will open a door to a closer inspection of anonymous, normed and highly idealized visualisations of internal body structures in Early Modern Times on the one hand. On the other hand, this will follow the reorientation of the medical viewer’s eye deep into the pathological alterations of specific body lesions on a specific patient’s skin in the 19th and 20th centuries.

I would like to stress the point that in each clinical moulage the patient’s subjectivity, his or her individual personality is undoubtedly ingrained and embedded to a certain degree. Thus, these highly realistic medical wax portraits form a unique source still for teaching medicine in a modern patient-orientated way, but also for discovering and reconstructing the patient in medical history.

#3 Presenter: Ion Meyer
Head of Collections, Senior Conservator
Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen

Restoring Shapes: Conservation and preparation of wax moulages (30 min.)

Medicinsk Museion has – as the only museum – carried out thorough analysis of the preservation status of the collection of moulages, and carried out conservation so that they are protected for the future. When the museum took over the collection, the moulagers were in a very bad condition and could not be used for dissemination or research. The most serious damages was that the facial moulages had been pressed; some were only one third of their original height.

Based on comprehensive analysis, a conservation plan was developed. With external funds, all the moulages was cleaned, stabilized and reshaped as close to their original form as possible and can now be used for museum purposes.

The Story of Nordic General Practice
– Thu 23 May, 11:30 – 13:00

#1 Presenter: Ole Didrik Lærum
The Gade Laboratory of Pathology, Institute of Clinical Research, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway & The Finsen Laboratory and Laboratory of Radiation Biology, Rigshospitalet and University of Copenhagen.

General Practice at Voss: Cases from Medicine in Western Norway 1850-1950 (30 min.)
The municipality of Voss is a mountainous area 100 km east of Bergen with an urban center at the Voss Lake, called Vossevangen. Since the middle of the 19th century they have had a stable medical service, where the doctors stayed there for most of their lives, altogether 7 over a hundred years’

Since about 2/3 of their working time was spent on the way to and from their patients, often with no suitable roads and rather primitive conditions in general, their spouses had to participate in the medical work, taking care of patients who came when the doctor was away. One single visit
to a patient could take up to 24 hours.

Until around 1900 the work as a community doctor was considered a dangerous profession. Their mean age at death was 6-7 years lower than the general population, and in 1/3 of the cases the cause of death was due to their work: Accidents, heart failure, total exhaustion and serious

Essentially, the medical care for patients was a personal responsibility for the doctor, which throughout the 20thcentury was gradually replaced by a social system, ending with the welfare state after the second world war.