Conservation of Wax Moulages

Moulages (French mouler: to form something) are life-size, three-dimensional wax reproductions of body parts that are affected by diseases. They are made from a cast (usually made of plaster) taken directly from the affected body part of the patient. The cast was then poured out with wax or a wax-resin mixture and the hereof resulting wax model painted once again in the presence of the patient. For their presentation, Moulages were usually enclosed by a tissue binding and fixed onto a wooden base or in a display case.

At the starting point of production at the end of the 19th century, Moulages were used for documentation and as teaching aids in medical education and later on even as a didactic resource in general health education. With the break through of colour slide technology in the 1930s, Moulages were gradually replaced. Many institutions disposed of their holdings or stored them under often inappropriate conditions. In some cases the exposure of unprotected Moulages to external influences resulted in severe damage, which in turn often led to inappropriate repairs or attempts at touching up. Despite these circumstances many Moulages have survived, and a revival of interest in them can be observed. Their use as teaching materials in medical education, where they serve as visual aids in seminars and exams at hospitals and universities, is increasing again. Moreover from today’s perspective the Moulage is an object of medical, cultural and historical significance; as cultural goods worthy of preservation and protection, Moulages are increasingly finding a place in museum collections.

Because of their fragility and their material composition the preservation and conservation of wax Moulages is challenging, particularly in light of their increasing use in exhibitions and teaching.

Course Content

This Internet-based training module gives insight into the history of Moulages and the process of their manufacturing. In the interdisciplinary course, principles of conservation are exemplified with a special look onto the conflict between the use of Moulages as an exhibit or teaching media on the one side and the standards of conservation on the other side. The participant of the course will find explanations on the materials which are used for manufacturing, especially wax mixtures and colors. You will learn the most important phenomena of damages and with this will be able to assess the necessary measures after completing the course. Additionally, the course communicates the most important preventive measures, which are necessary for protecting these valuable objects. Storage, exhibition and handling of the Moulages are explained as well as the establishment of an adequate environment.

The course addresses curators, conservators, physicians, taxidermists, ethnologists and other interested people. It is drawn up within the framework of the project “Wax Moulages: A Valuable Handicraft Threatened with Extinction,” carried out from 2008-10 by an interdisciplinary group at the German Hygiene-Museum in Dresden under the support by the federal Kulturstiftung (Cultural Foundation) and the Kulturstiftung of the Länder (States).

The Authors

Dipl.-Rest. Johanna Lang was responsible for the coordination within the project at the German Hygiene-Museum and developed and applied a concept for conservation of the Dresden Wax Moulages. She will take over the professional supervision of the course.

Dipl.-Rest. Luise Kober was staff member in the project and implemented the concept developed by Johanna Lang on selected Moulages.

Dipl.-Rest. Ute Hack is director of the Conservation Department at the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich and gave technical support as a partner of the project.

Dr. Sandra Mühlenberend was curator of the Moulages collection of the German Hygiene Museum Dresden.

The course is in German language, but technical support can be given in English.


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