Neuroscience by Caricature in Europe throughout the ages

by Lorenzo Lorusso
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Charcot’s pupils caricatures

Many of Jean-Martin Charcot’s students were famous clinicians in their own right and their popularity was celebrated by various caricatures published in French medical journals.

Fig. 1
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Joseph Babinski

The most significant was Joseph Babinski (1857-1932) who became known for his eponymous sign. In 1911, a caricature portrayed him holding a fan with a picture of swan and the words “ceci est mon cygne”. This is a French pun on the homophonic words “cygne” (swan) and “signe” (sign). In this representation the phenomenon of fanning of the toes is given more prominence than the up-going toe sign in the drawing of the foot as well as through the display of the fan (van Gijn J, 1996). Babinski’ sign indicates a pathological condition of the central nervous system. Babinski described several signs including a description of cerebellar semeiotic. Image from a private collection.

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Joseph Jules Dejerine

Joseph Jules Dejerine (1849-1917) achieved high academic status and made many significant contributions to the relations between neuropathology and neuroanatomy. In 1886, he published his thesis on the hereditary basis of neurological diseases and the same year he collaborated with Landouzy in the delineation of the form of muscular dystrophy. His name is associated with Dejerine-Sottas disease, or hypertrophic interstitial polyneuritis. Dejerine was interested to psychology considered it crucial in any interaction with his patient. Image from a private collection.

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Pierre Marie

Pierre Marie (1853-1940) made the first description of acromegaly. His analysis of the disease was an important contribution in the emerging field of endocrinology. He is also credited as the first to describe pulmonary hypertrophic osteoarthropathy. He was also interested in clinicopathological issues in the characterization of aphasia. His name is associated with eponymous Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease which is characterized by gradual progressive loss of tissue muscle. It is considered an hereditary neurological disorder. Marie was the first secretary of the Société Française de Neurologie and he co-founded the journal Revue Neurologique. Image from a private collection.


  • Van Gijn J. The Babinski sign – a centenary. Universiteit Utrecht, 1996
  • Bogousslavsky J. Following Charcot: a forgotten history of Neurology and Psychiatry. Karger, Basel, 2011