Apart from the National Library on Josephsplatz, the Josephinum is the only representative building dating back to Joseph II and is considered the most important example of classicist architecture in Vienna.
A jewel in new shimmer
The Josephinum is the historic gateway to Viennese medicine and a platform for contact and dialogue with and between the public and decision-makers. As such it is an unmistakable icon. It was founded as an academy of military surgery by Emperor Joseph II in 1785. It was part of his radical reforms and was intended for the academic training of military physicians and especially of surgeons. Designed by Isidore Canevale, the building is an outstanding monument of the Enlightenment.
It houses the internationally significant and unique historical collections of the Medical University of Vienna, presenting them over two levels. Important holdings, such as the anatomical wax models from 1785, items relating to Joseph II, the history of the Josephinum as an example of radical Enlightenment ideals, the First and Second Viennese Medical Schools with reference to modern high-tech medicine, as well as the history of the Viennese Medical Faculty from 1938 to 1945, are shown in a permanent exhibition with its priorities set according to contemporary concerns.
One of the Josephinum’s major duties is to preserve the cultural inheritance of the Medical University of Vienna (and of the earlier medical faculty of the University of Vienna), and to make it accessible to the public. This is why we continue to try to bring in new holdings that can be defined as the cultural legacy of the Medical University of Vienna and that enhance our collections.
The name Josephinum initially established itself as an abbreviation for the academy of military surgery founded by Joseph II and for the building at Währinger Strasse 25, designed by Isidore Canevale in the style of a Parisian classicist palais.
Today the tradition-steeped name refers not just to the building but also to the organizational unit Ethics, Collections and History of Medicine, the separate company Josephinum – medizinische Sammlungen GmbH and the newly opened Museum of Medical History.
Under Emperor Joseph II, the medical institutions of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy were expanded. His program also took into account Giovanni Alessandro Brambilla’s upgrading of surgery with a special doctorate in the discipline. At the university, Joseph’s ideas were less than popular. The establishment of the Josephinum as a self-contained teaching center with surgery as its focus was one result of the ensuing conflict. He sent particularly trusted doctors on study tours so they could bring experience from other countries back with them to Austria’s hospitals.
The founding of the “Joseph Academy” of medicine and surgery was based on the emperor’s idea for an institution that was subordinate to the military and was intended to implement Joseph’s own notions of good education. The Josephinum was completed in 1785 according to plans by the court architect Isidore Canevale. In addition to part of what today is the National Library on the Josefsplatz in Vienna’s First District, it is the only representative building that can be traced back to Joseph II and is considered the most important example of classicist architecture in Vienna. At the same time, the building is an important testament to the Austrian Enlightenment. Thanks to the work Appendice by Giovanni Alessandro Brambilla, the first director of the institution, we can still form a vivid impression today of the building at this time, its rooms and facilities and the uses it was put to.
One major aspect of the Josephinian reforms was the improvement and harmonization of healthcare, along with medical education and administration, throughout the empire. It was in this context that the General Hospital was founded and the Narrenturm asylum was built, a comprehensive ensemble of medical and scientific institutions that remain defining features of the Viennese cityscape to this day.
The Josephinum was also used as an opportunity to put into practice the ideas of the time about healthy construction – large windows, bright and airy rooms and clear architecture based on special calculations, which were intended to promote the health of the faculty and students.
The lecture hall
The first floor is the main level and the piano nobile of the building, reached after climbing the stately stairs. It also contains the entrances to the lecture hall, which has been restored to its original two-story form in the renovation. We know the original design of the lecture hall thanks to an engraving by Hieronymus Löschenkohl, which shows the official opening of the academy and Giovanni Alessandro Brambilla’s speech to its students on November 7, 1785, in the semicircular, nine-meter-high hall with paintings on the walls. These paintings, in separate medallions, portray the great doctors of early medicine, such as Galen and Paracelsus. The angle of view, with two rows of windows, looks towards the Herb Garden in the garrison courtyard. The Garrison Hospital was a military hospital behind the Josephinum for soldiers and their families. In the center of the Josephinum, under the lecture hall, was the Aula, or auditorium, which today once again is a central space, acting as a foyer for welcoming visitors.
The deep cultural inheritance of today’s Medical University of Vienna represents the more than 650-year history of the medical faculty of the University of Vienna and, since its separation from the university in 2004, of the present-day Medical University of Vienna.
Until the mid-18th century, the medical faculty played a significant role in the health system of a region encompassing at least present-day Bavaria, Upper Austria, Lower Austria including Vienna, Burgenland, parts of Hungary and Styria. As far as we are currently aware, only Italian universities and the medical faculty of the University of Prague performed a similar function, but to a significantly smaller extent or with much smaller official competences.
The Josephinum has a special significance not just because of the building’s own historical, architectural and cultural significance and its original collections but also as an institution that takes care of, researches and displays the historical holdings of the whole Medical University.
One of the unique aspects of the rich cultural inheritance of the Medical University of Vienna is that these holdings have emerged over many centuries from the everyday work of the faculty in science, teaching, research and healthcare, thus representing their development in a range of different ways. Thanks to an excellent body of historical sources, the activities of the Viennese medical faculty are well documented, and that many different kinds of sources have been successfully preserved (architecture, teaching materials, instruments, literature, manuscripts and pictures, to name just a few).
Anatomical wax models
Among the many collections, libraries, documents and bequests in the Josephinum, a particular highlight is the collection of anatomical wax models, which represents a unique cultural treasure that is especially worthy of preservation.