The Museum’s four floors are filled with extraordinary artifacts, as well as paintings and sculptures that interpret the the prehistoric thorough contemporary healing practices of Eastern and Western civilizations. The Museum’s collections and exhibits portray the mysteries and milestones that have shaped modern surgical science.
Medical artifacts, apparatus and instruments comprise the bulk of the material in the Museum’s collections. Over 7,000 medical artifacts spanning centuries of worldwide medical history, from acupuncture to X-ray therapy, are represented in the collections. Among the exceptional artifacts are an Austrian amputation saw with reversible blade (c. 1500); original X-rays taken by radiology pioneer Emil Grubbé (c. 1910); the Lindbergh perfusion pump, which enabled doctors to keep organs functioning outside the body, invented by the renowned aviator Charles Lindbergh and Nobel Prize-winning surgeon Alexis Carrel (1935); and a unique collection of heart valves donated by Dr. Juro Wada (c. 1960-80).
Fine art is featured in the collections through over 600 paintings, prints and sculptures, primarily portraits of individuals and historical depictions of specific procedures or events. Highlights include a portrait of Dr. Edward Jenner by John Russell (1790), and the original plaster cast of the death mask of Napoleon (1821). Significant artworks were commissioned by the Museum for the collections in 1950-53 including the Hall of Immortals and Hall of Murals.
The Museum Library contains over 5,000 books and bound journals, including extremely rare early medical books from the 16 th to 18 th centuries.
The manuscript collection contains over 650 letters and papers from prominent figures in medical history, extending over four centuries, donated by Dr. Max Thorek in 1954. This collection includes documents from Edward Jenner, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Guy, Laennec, Langenback, Bergmann, Billroth, Malpighi, Rush, Wistar, and many others.
Collection Spotlight: “The Hall of Murals”
One of the unique aspects of the International Museum of Surgical Science is the Museum’s integration of the fine arts with medical artifacts in presenting the history of surgery and related sciences. Paintings, sculpture, prints, and drawings comprise a noteworthy part of the Museum’s collections and may be found on exhibit throughout the galleries.
A significant example of the Museum’s fine art collection, the Hall of Murals, was among the first exhibits to be installed in the Museum at its opening in 1954. Located on the second floor of the Museum, this grand room, with its ornate decorative paneling, marble floors, and fireplace was originally the dining room of the residence as built for the Countiss family in 1917.
The Italian painter Gregorio Calvi di Bergolo (1904-1994) was commissioned in 1953 to paint 12 mural panels in oils for this room to illustrate the development of surgery throughout the ages. The artist was born in Turin, studied painting in Turin, Rome, and Paris, and took part in the principal Italian exhibitions of his time – the Quadriennale in Rome and the Venice Biennale.
A wide range of historical achievements in surgery and medicine are covered in the paintings, which each measure approximately 44 x 80 inches. Primitive trephining of the cranium in prehistoric Peru, the study of human anatomy by dissection in the Middle Ages, and a 15th century church hospital in Paris are examples of historical developments illustrated by the murals. Also featured are significant figures in the progress of surgery and medicine in dramatic scenes fro their life experiences. Among these are Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1818-1865), as he upholds the theory of antisepsis in obstetrics; Ambroise Paré (1510-1590), treating wounded soldiers on the battlefield; and Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), presenting his epoch-making anatomical work to Emperor Charles V of Spain.