The 'scientific artworks' of Doctor Paul Richer

Ruiz-Gómez, Natasha
June 2013
Medical Humanities;Jun2013, Vol. 39 Issue 1, p4
Academic Journal
This article examines the little-known sculptures of pathology created by Doctor Paul Richer (1849-1933) in the 1890s for the so-called Musée Charcot at the Hôpital de la Salpêtrière in Paris. Under the direction of Doctor Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893), one of the founders of modern neurology, Richer was the head of the hospital's museum of pathological anatomy, as well as the Salpêtrière's resident artist. His 'series of figural representations of the principal types of nervous pathology' included busts of patients suffering from labio-glosso-laryngeal paralysis and myopathy, as well as sculptures depicting patients with Parkinson's disease and juvenile hypothyroidism. These patient portraits were seen as objective, while also paradoxically providing an alternative to mechanical media, such as the photograph and the cast, by permitting the doctor's intervention in not only controlling and animating the sitter, but also emphasising the patient's symptoms. This was a new kind of medical specimen: the 'scientific artwork', as they were called by a contemporary. This phrase, far from being an oxymoron, indicates the purposive collapse of the objective ('scientific') and subjective ('artistic') binary in Richer's sculptures of pathology. Through a detailed examination of three of Richer's works, this article problematises the categories traditionally used to describe, analyse and understand medical imagery and complicates our understanding of the relationship between science and art at the end of the nineteenth century.


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