The Museum of History of Medicine Paris is slightly macabre, fantastically intriguing and wonderfully well presented. It’s not just a place for those with an interest in medicine either, it’s for everyone, history fans to architecture buffs and completionists wanting to tick another Parisian sight off their lists…
First though a little history: the Museum of The History of Medicine or the Musée d’Histoire de la Médecine is housed inside the Paris Descartes University, which in turn was the premises of the Faculty of Medicine/ Medical School. It was founded in 1803 and situated in the buildings of the Academy of Surgery. The museum’s initial collections were curated by Dean Lafaye in the 18th century and are said to be the oldest in Europe. The museum is found at 12 rue de l’école de medicine; you’ll need to head indoors through the beautiful University building) and up to the second floor.
Once inside you’ll come face-to-face with old medical instruments, medical models, prosthetic limbs, macabre paintings depicting blood transfusions and much more. There’s a table for instance, which is an intricate, though slightly gruesome design as it is, quite literally, a mosaic made entirely of human body parts. And the eye catching centrepiece? A severed human foot – complete with an engraved silver top, and four delicately arranged human ears. The accompanying description reads: Made by Efisio Marini, Italian naturalist doctor, and offered to Napoléon III. This table is formed of petrified brains, blood, bile, liver, lungs and glands upon which rests a foot, four ears and sections of vertebrae, which are also petrified.
The museum is full of intriguing little curios, some 1500 or so, and for fans of the weird and sometimes very weird and wonderful it makes for an intriguing visit.
The painting below actually hangs just outside the entrance to the museum within the university – the oil on canvas represents a blood transfusion from a goat to a somewhat pale young lady. Most interestingly the man who commissioned the painting in 1892, is the bearded gent looking down at the lady, a Parisian doctor by the name of Samuel Bernheim. The painting shows a real-life moment, one documented by a report published by Bernheim in that same year in a French medical journal titled, “Transfusion de sang de chevre et tuberculose pulmonaire” , transfusion of a goat’s blood and pulmonary tuberculosis.
The museum itself is stunning, housed in the Université Paris Descartes building and the museum room is an exhibit in of itself. It is really quite small but exceptionally beautiful and very different from most museums!
Check the website for details of opening times: www.parisdescartes.fr
Nick Nomi is a traveller with a penchant for the more curious things in life. He spends his time slow travelling and blogging at www.europeisourplayground.com where he chronicles his stories from around the globe – writing about travel, food, art and music.