Adventures in Budapest: SemmelweisMuseum

I’ve been to Budapest quite a few times now, and I’ve managed to visit quite a few of the museums the Hungarian capital has to offer. So far, my Budapest Museum total is 11. Well, 12 counting this one. According to I’m about 10% of the way through. That’s a challenge I am more than up for completing!

The SemmelweisMuseum is a medical museum at the foot of Buda Hill. It has a sister museum at the top of the hill, The Golden Eagle Pharmacy (already checked off the list!).

Medical museums are all sorts of fun. By fun, I mean gruesome. There’s probably a word that sums up the ‘joy in the gross’ feeling you get when confronted with learning about how our bodies work. My money is on it being a German compound noun. (I bloody love the German language sometimes.)

An anatomical Venus from the Semmelweis Museum in Budapest
An anatomical Venus from the Semmelweis Museum in Budapest

The Anatomical Venus is an odd kettle of fish. Like ‘Resuscitation Annie‘, the main point of the doll is to be a learning tool. With both, however, there’s something else going on – something that makes me very uncomfortable. Both dolls have a sexual undertone that feels out of sync with their main purpose. With the Venus that’s clear enough, the name alone evokes the deity of love, beauty and sex. Her form is an idealised female one, with *everything* out on display. With ‘Resusitation Annie’ or ‘L’Inconnue de la Seine’ the face of a dead girl has gained fame and notoriety for being ‘the most kissed in the world.’

It makes very uncomfortable that important tools for teaching medicine involve a female victim who has been unnecessarily sexualised.

It was difficult to get a good picture of the Semmelweis’ model. Her glass coffin, putting her somewhere between Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, meant that the glare from the lights often spoiled the shot.

A recreation of a pharmacy in the Semmelweis Museum
A recreation of a pharmacy in the Semmelweis Museum

If there is one thing that both Semmelweis branches do well, it is the recreation of historic pharmacies. I love all the glass bottles lined up on the shelves and the gilded relief sculptures on the cabinets.

A decorative nose kettle?
A decorative nose kettle?

Most of the labels in the museum were in Hungarian. I can muddle along with some basic tourist Magyar, medical language is beyond my skill. This object charmed me. It’s whimsy stood out amongst all the more macabre looking medical tools. I think its a decorative nose kettle/ neti pot type device. 

Medical museums are always worth a visit, and visiting one were there isn’t always an explanation in your language means that your imagination works overtime. This may be a good or bad thing depending on your viewpoint…

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