In the early years of dermatology, wax models were the best way to capture and record precise findings of dermatologic diseases for teaching others. Photography was not easily accessible until around 1890, and color photography did not exist.
The Hôpital Saint Louis moulage collection originated in the late 1860’s by Charles Lailler, the chair of dermatology at that time. The story goes, Lailler started a collection of wax models for teaching, but had lost his first moulageur, and was seeking a new wax modeler to work in the dermatology department.
Serendipitously, Lailler was strolling down the “Passage Jouffroy” and saw some paper-maché fruit models in a small shop. Lailler enticed the artist, Jules Pierre Francois Baretta, to come to the hospital in 1864 and try a wax-modeling technique on dermatology patients.
Barretta was so successful in his work, and his reputation became so famous after the first International Congress in 1889, that his work was commissioned by some of the earliest dermatologists in the United States. Sadly, some of the early American collections have dispersed or been lost over subsequent years, including the famous collection at Harvard, which at one point, due to space constraints, the collection was put into basement storage too close to the boilers and was reduced to an amorphous pile of wax.
By the time of his retirement in 1914, Barretta cast approximately 2,000 wax models. In 1870, during his grand tour of Europe, Louis A. Duhring wrote to the Philadelphia medical community, that the Paris collection represented “…the most complete and beautiful set of models of these affections in the world.”
The moulage collection at the Hopital Saint Louis, and the studio of Jules Barretta are an essential core of dermatologic history. It is imperative to understand the importance of this collection in medical history and the role of Jules Barretta in creating works that taugh the first generations of dermatologists outside of Europe.