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Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia

Print version ISSN 0365-0596On-line version ISSN 1806-4841

An. Bras. Dermatol. vol.79 no.1 Rio de Janeiro Jan./Feb. 2004 



Joseph Plenck (1735-1807): Author of the first textbook on Dermatology



Rubem David Azulay

Emeritus Professor at the UFRJ and UFF. Titular Professor at the "Fundação Técnico Educacional Souza Marques" and Gama Filho University. Head of the Institute of Dermatology at the Santa Casa Charitable Hospital of Rio de Janeiro




Hypocrites - the initiator of Medicine - had already made reference to diseases of the skin and sought to use the nomenclature of vegetables for identification of the dermatoses; for example one could cite: lichen in relation to vegetal parasitism and exanthema, signifying efflorescence.

This introduction serves merely to draw attention to the doctors' concern regarding diseases of the skin, as referred to above by Hypocrites. In fact, several doctors in the XVIII century, made reference in their works to the dermatoses and even described and classified them. Nevertheless, Joseph Plenck's work should be valorized by the fact that he was the author of the first textbook on diseases of the skin, albeit containing only 124 pages. Entitled Doctrina de Morbis Cutaneis and published in Vienna, in 1776. In this, Plenck described 115 types of dermatoses.

It is of interest to offer a short biography of this excellent 18th century dermatologist. Son of Franck Plenck and Maria Anna Pochtl, Joseph Plenck was born on November 28, 1735. Under the orientation of Dr. Reitter, Plenck, became a surgeon at 18 years of age. With a view to expanding his knowledge, he attended courses at the Vienna School of Medicine.

In 1763, he became a surgeon of the Imperial Army and anatomy professor in Balli. His fame lead Imperatriz Marie Thèrese, of Austria, to nominate him professor of surgery and obstetrics at the University of Tyrnau, in Hungary, and, in 1786, he became secretary of the Academy of Medicine. He wrote several books, some of which have been published in various languages - Latin, German, French and Russian - including the enormously successful Pharmacia Chirurgica, republished three times in Latin, Italian, Spanish, German, French and Dutch.

An excellent professor, two of his students, Batei and Niimiya Ryotei, translated a number of his books into Dutch and Japanese, respectively.

He was a famous surgeon and a landmark in obstetrics, having introduced, for the first time, the use of gloves for the childbirth of syphilitic mothers, in order to protect the physician from contagion. At 62 years of age, his fame as a doctor was rewarded by becoming a member of the nobility, by decree of François II.

Plenck was also the pioneer in the use of mercury in the treatment of venereal diseases. Plenck was also an excellent botanist, contributing several books on vegetables that included an illustrated catalog of the medicinal plants.

The influence of the scientist Lineu on his dermatological works merits mention, especially the fundamental function of observation and systemization.

It is worth making reference to the foreword of a book on Dermatology, in which Plenck wrote: "The great number and the diversity of cutaneous diseases, the obscurity of their causes and differences, as well as the difficulty of treating them, have made this branch of Medicine, one of the most difficult and most incomprehensible for those initiating in medicine". That truth, according to my understanding, still largely persists, until the current day. It is interesting to emphasize that Plenck described several types of elementary lesions: macula, pustule, crust, scales, callosity and excrescence. This book by Plenck has revolutionized medicine, above all with regard to the cutaneous diseases. Hence the statement of the eminent dermatologist Hebra: "Doctrina de Morbus Cutaneis, just as a catechism, impresses by its conciseness and axioms, which make it a guide for those wishing to become familiar with the cutaneous diseases."

Plenck worked as doctor up until 1805; when he became paraplegic and died on August 24, 1807, in his home in Vienna. His legacy, however, forms the basis of dermatological knowledge.



Correspondence to
Rubem David Azulay
Av. Atlântica, 3130 - apto. 701 - Copacabana
22070-000 Rio de Janeiro RJ
Tel (21) 2522-1598

Received in December, 20th of 2002
Approved by the Consultive Council and accepted for publication in January, 10th of 2003

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