Spanish version

Jose Eugenio Olavide – First Spanish Dermatologist

A young doctor

José Eugenio de Olavide y Landazábal was born in Madrid on September 6th, 1836. OlavideHis father, José María Olavide, was a surgeon . After finishing his Medicine studies with very good maks, he went to Paris in 1858. It seems that there he dedicated his time mostly to surgery. Two years later he returned to Madrid. In 1861 entered a public competitive examination. He was the best among 25 other aplicants and so became official doctor to the Royal Heritage Organization. He worked at El Pardo, a small town near Madrid. Some years laters he was appointed as doctor to the Royal Household. He had this post twice, as it was interrupted during the First Republic. He was the doctor of Amadeo de Saboya and Alfonso XII .

In 1861 he also obtained a job, again after an official exam, as surgeon at San Juan de Dios hospital. In 1872 he became a member of the Royal Academy of Medicine.

He died in Madrid in 1901.

San Juan de Dios Hospital

This hospital had been founded in 1552. It was dedicated to see poor people with dermatological and venereal diseases. In most cases the patients were involved in cases of prostitution and therefore almost nobody paid any attention to them. Olavide Museum-mold

Olavide looked after many of these sick persons with syphilis, scabies or ringworm and started getting more and more involved in dermatological diseases. In those days this was an almost unknown part of Medicine, which is why Olavide is considered as the first Spanish dermatologist.

On the other hand, he was influenced by the French trends of this medical speciality which he must have known during his stay in that country. In 1850 they had already wanted to found a Dermatology professorship in Madrid, but it was never created, so Olavide´s work with his students can be considered as the first time this speciality was taught.


Olavide made many drawings in order to create a method of teaching his students and also with the aim to remember and recreate the characteristics of the different illnesses. It seems that his first drawings are from 1866 and they also included the patient´s medical history and a short theoretical summary of the illness.

Olavide worked with his collaborators in order to write down all his observations and so make these illnesses more understandable. All these notes were published, as installments between 1871 and 1881, in the book “General Dermatology and Clinical Iconographic Atlas of Skin Deseases or Dermatosis”

Olavide Museum - drawingPart of these drawings have been found and are currently at the Olavide Museum in Madrid.


The Olavide Museum

In those days, many doctors used wax figures to teach about different diseases and their treatment. These wax figures were made in several European countries as they were very important to understand human anatomy. In fact, even nowadays with all our technological progress, in Germany, for example, they are being used to study forensic anatomy.

Olavide also used this system. He worked with several specialists. First they made a plaster cast which was filled with wax and melted binders. Afterwards, when the figure was unmolded, the diseases characteristcs were included. These wax figures are very sensitive. They have to be maintained at 20 degrees with a 30% of humidity. They are also very fragile so that their storage has to be done with great care. The wax figures in the Olavide Museum are different from the rest as the molds were made from a whole part of the body and not only that affected by the illness. Olavide Museum - David Aranda Gabrielli and Amaya Maruri

It seems that during Olavide´s time they made about 800 figures.

The museum was inaugurated in 1882. Seven years later it became internationally knows as 90 wax figures were exhibited at the I International Dermatology Congress in Paris.

Enrique Zofío Dávila , one of the creators of the wax figures numbered all of them and attached the medical history of the patient. Unfortunately José Barta Bernardotta and Rafael López Alvarez did not number their figures so their classifying is much more complicated.

The Olavide Museum was used by dermatologists and the figures frequently used during their classes.

The museum was located in a gallery with the figures set out in glass cabinets from the floor to the ceiling. The persons in carge of the museum, José Barta and afterwards Rafael López, continued making figures. During the Civil War the museum was also visited by many militiamen who were shown the ravages of venereal diseases.

The war and the demolition of the building that housed the museum made the wax figures take part in “Tales of the Unexpected”. For many years nobody knew where they were until they suddenly appeared in a group of stored boxes. It seems that almost all 800 figures are there and about 400 have already been restored.

Olavide Museum Currently the Olavide Museum belongs to the AEDV (Spanish Academy of Dermatology and Venereology) and is managed by doctor Luis Conde-Salazar Gómez . The restorers are Amaya Maruri Palacín and David Aranda Gabrielli . Their job is very demanding and not without risks as many of the pieces have been found in a terrible state, accumulating dust and sometimes even animal excrements for ages.

They like to emphazise that it is not only the figure itself that has to be restored but also the medical history. These histories contain much information about the patient, his or her background, general state of health, habits, etc which helps us understand ancient medicine.

Among the most curious figures is that of a young boy lying on a mattress. It is said that years after the figure had been made, this same boy, already a grown up man, visited the San Juan de Dios Hospital. When he saw the figure he wanted to buy it immediately but the hospital did not accept his offer.

Another interesting piece is that of a woman who suffered great deformities so that she was considered a fair monster. Olavide Museum - young boyWhen she saw herself the center of interest for so many doctors who were treating her illness she was happy for the first time in her life.

Little by little, Amaya and David are opening the boxes and restoring the figures as they appear. They are also in charge of restoring the drawings and the documents containing the medical histories. A great and difficult job that they do with lots of enthusiasm.

Although this is not the typical kind of museum where you walk around admiring different works of art its visit is essential for all those interested in dermatology and the history of medicine.

An example of Medical History

"F.G.M., 17 years old, born in Valdepeñas (Ciudad Real), of lymphatic temperament and second class veterinerian.

No history of the illness in the family and his individual history is reduced to current illness; when he was one year old, while sleeping in bed, he fell to the floor and suffered a stroke. Immediately a red little spot appeared and persisted on his right cheek. This spot burnt and he had to scratch it. Later on it ulcerated and was covered by a grey scrab.

He entered the hospital for the first time about five years ago and was Olavide Museum - a medical historyprescribed scarification and cauterization with silver nitrate bars and pure carbolic acid; as the patient realized that there was no improvement and the injury even was growing, he asked to be discharged. But this month he heard that lupus could be cured by the Koch lymph and that some test were being made at this hospital. So he wanted to undergo this treatment and asked to be admitted again.

Current state

Good constitution and all functions normal. The injury on the cheek growing towards lips, palpebral (ulcered) and nose.


Embrocation with iodine tincture and cure with alcohol and iodoform powders on inferior eyelid, general bath with sodium chloride and internal with cod liver oil and some drops of iodine tincture in the wine during meals. As he wanted to bath in the sea, he was allowed to do so. He left the hospital with the injury almost healed, with rests only on nose and inferior eyelid which still is partly ulcered."



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