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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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Prof Buda - Pictures with the first mentally ill patients

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Octavian Buda (b. April 22, 1966, Bucharest, RS Romania) is a Romanian psychiatrist and medical historian. He is a university professor at the "Carol Davila" University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Bucharest, where he has been leading the department of medical history since 2009.

His studies cover various aspects of the history of Romanian and universal medicine, the interrelationship between medicine and philosophy, cultural anthropology, bioethics, psychoanalysis. Contributions in the history of forensic medicine and Romanian psychiatry, the history of comparative anatomy, the history of medical photography, reconfirmed in Western publications.


In 1870 the Romanian physician Nicolae G. Chernbach published a photographic atlas of the main types of mental alienation, a collection of twelve plates depicting mentally ill patients from the Marcutza Asylum in Bucharest. Each photograph included a diagnosis based on the clinical nosography and theories of the physiognomy of insanity acknowledged during the period. The publication of the atlas – just a few years after Hugh W. Diamond’s initial use of photography for this purpose in Britain in the 1850s – means that the photographs were not only the first taken in Romania, but among the first photographs of the mentally ill. This study provides an insight into the origins of modern clinical psychiatry and medical advances in Romania, and the contemporary personalities in Romanian and Eastern European medicine.
The first known psychiatric photographs in Eastern Europe were published by Nicolae Chernbach in 1870; the photographs were taken at the Marcutza Asylum in Bucharest. This was remarkably soon after the first efforts of Hugh Diamond in 1852 and 1856 in London. Chernbach’s photographs are eloquent portraits of the insane – the melancholic, the manic, the epileptic, the hysteric, the idiot, the pellagrous (Buda, 2007). These were his patients at the Marcutza Asylum led by Alexandru Sutzu, the founder of modern Romanian asylum psychiatry and the holder of the first Chair of Psychiatry in the Faculty of Medicine of Bucharest. In his foreword, Chernbach underlined the fact that the photographic art is useful for recording the physiognomies of the mentally ill, which can later be compared with each other and with that of a normal person: ‘every phrenopathy has its own mask’.
The need for photographs emerged in institutional record-keeping, for example, during the 1870s when Thomas John Barnardo set up homes for orphaned and destitute children in Britain and took photographs of the children for the assessment of their development (Gilman, 1976b). Other alienists of the period, such as William Charles Hood, the director of the Bethlem Asylum, also used of photography in the early 1880s. The photographs presented by Chernbach belong to the same historical ‘first wave’ of psychiatric photography.

After studying at the "Cantemir Vodă" High School in Bucharest, Octavian Buda attended the Faculty of Medicine of the "Carol Davila" University of Bucharest (graduated in 1992) and the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Bucharest (graduated in 1997 with a paper on Karl Jaspers). He has been a doctor of medical sciences since 2002, with a thesis on the criteria of forensic psychiatry. He was a fellow of the Volkswagen Foundation - Germany, in 1998, at the Free University of Berlin. Visiting Fellow in the History of Medicine from Oxford Brookes, Liverpool, Birmingham (UK), Freiburg, Ulm and Cologne (Germany). It is part of a series of editorial teams (of which the most notable are: Medical History Journal - Cambridge, German Journal of Forensic Medicine - Rechtsmedizin, Romanian Journal of Forensic Medicine - RJLM, Noesis - Journal of the Romanian Committee of History and Philosophy of Science and Techniques of the Romanian Academy - CRIFST).
Between 2015-2017, he was the president of the European Association for the History of Medicine and Health (EAHMH), the first Eastern European to head this society, founded in Strasbourg in 1989. He is the second Romanian, after Victor Gomoiu, who led an international society in the history of medicine.