Ophthalmologic wax models as an educational tool for 18th-century vision scientists

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Abstract

The Medical Faculties of the University of Padua (Italy) and the University of Vienna (Austria) preserved two series of wax models, made by the Austrian Johann Nepomuk Hoffmayr at the beginning of the 19th century. These models were created in a period of evolution of both medical specialties and organ pathology, which brought morbid organs at the centre of medical investigation. Ceroplastic was considered a useful tool for didactic and research, as it provided a three-dimensional realistically coloured reproduction of organic lesions. The models represent the typical eye diseases of the period, in particular those affecting external parts, which could be investigated without the need for specific instruments devised for the observation of the inner and posterior anatomy of the eye, at that time not yet available. Even if the nosological categories then employed by Hoffmayr were different from those currently used, it has been possible to find a correspondence thanks to the ophthalmological literature of his period. Ceroplastic started to decline at the end of 19th century, substituted by the much less expensive method of preservation of morbid organs in formalin and by new techniques of investigation of the inner body, such as X-ray.

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