• Mika Vepsalainen

Josephinum - Scary Wax Models in a New Medical History Museum in Vienna

Join us for a visit to the newest addition to the fantastic museum scene in Vienna, the fully revamped Josephinum telling the medical history in Vienna for over 650 years.


Late September 2022 saw yet another great addition to the brilliant choice of museums in Vienna when the historical collection of the Vienna University of Medicine, Josephinum, was reopened after almost four years of works.


Emperor Joseph II opened Collegium Medico Chirurgicum Josephinum in 1785 to train military surgeons. After him, emperor Franz Il made it an academy on equal footing with universities. It was eventually closed by Franz Joseph I in 1874. The building is heritage listed as a jewel of the Viennese classicism and a symbol of the Age of Enlightenment. Today, it is restored in its original condition - do not forget to admire the building, too! The nine metres high historic semicircular auditorium alone is a true beauty with its original frescoes now revealed.


The museum houses one of the world's most outstanding collections of medical history and together with the Narrenturm (see our separate review) it provides one of the best presentations of medical history in Europe. Joseph II privately commissioned over 1,200 anatomical wax models at the Reale Museo di Fisica e Storia Naturale in Florence. It is a unique collection alone but there are also rarities, such as a Medical Venus made out of Venice glass. You will perhaps wonder why many of the full body size models seem to assume poses of classical Greek statues. Apparently, this was to appease the Church that did not accept such nudity. You will see all these and much more in the first floor of the museum. However, be prepared for some pretty scary statues. This part is definitely not a Madame Tussauds and, perhaps, this museum might not be the best place for the smallest kids!


The museum has also a special room explaining the history of the building and the collections from the 18th century all the way till the latest renovation that was completed in mid 2022.


Austria is also dealing with its Nazi past in several ways and many museums are actively dealing with the issues, too. Josephinum is up to its tasks in this respect highlighting some of the darkest moments of Austrian medicine in the last century.


The gadgets and instruments on show include the world’s oldest endoscope from 1806 that Franz I had bought for the Academy from the developer, Philipp Bozzini. The rare documents include a handwritten personal history of Sigmund Freud and the anatomical atlas by Eduard Pernkopf, which many still consider unequaled today, although most of the drawings were made using corpses of victims of the Nazis. Do not forget to have a look at the file that Empress Sissi was murdered with in Geneva in 1898! Other curiosities include e.g. the collection of surgical instruments of the emperor’s personal physician, Dr. Giovanni Brambilla.


A particularly interesting section is the one on X rays, highlighting the naivety with which they were initially applied before the dangers of radiation were understood. Another point of interest might be the original specimen in a glass jar of the part of the stomach that Dr Billroth removed as the first in the world. The patient survived the operation and only died months later for completely other reasons.


After the renovation, the inside of the museum is now nicely unhindered for the handicapped and visitors with a pram. Unfortunately, you still cannot really get in as there are steps at the entrance gates which are at the both ends of the beautiful black iron fence. There are also steps at the main door with no ramp.


If you get in, there are two handicapped loos at both ends of the ground floor. The spacious lift to the right of the ticket desk takes you up to the first floor.


There are beautiful lockers in an arch to the right of the ticket desk and lovely tables and chairs to the left. Unfortunately, the first week after reopening, there was no café or even a drink machine to enjoy those. Perhaps the future will see a café opened in the beautiful round hall!


There is no museum shop but the ticket desk sells some basic souvenirs, such as cards and small history books.


Josephinum

Währinger Straße 25, 1090 Vienna

www.josephinum.ac.at