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Moriz Kohn Kaposi

Born  1837-10-23
Died  1902-03-30

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Hungarian physician and dermatologist, born October 23, 1837, Kaposvár; died March 6, 1902.

Biography of Moriz Kohn Kaposi

We thank Robert T. Manning, MD, for information used in this article

Moriz Kohn Kaposi

Moriz Kohn was born in Hungary, the son of very poor parents. Nevertheless, he eventually was able to enter the medical study in Vienna in 1856. He received his medical degree from Vienna in 1861 and immediately was appointed assistant to Ferdinand von Hebra (1816-1880), the noted Austrian dermatologist. He worked with Hebra from 1862 to 1867 and fell in love with and later married Hebra's daughter. As Hebra was Catholic and Kohn Jewish, he chaned his name to Kaposi – a play on his place of birth, Kaposvár, Hungary.

Kaposi was habilitated as Privatdozent of dermatology in 1866. As a result of the cooperation between teacher and apprentice, Kaposi completed von Hebra's textbook of dermatology, published in 1872.

In 1875 Kaposi was appointed professor at the University, and in 1880 took over as director of the skin clinic in Vienna. He was appointed Hofrat in 1899.

Kaposi was a prolific writer and made a number of original contributions to clinical dermatology. His Pathologie und Therapie der Hautkrankheiten is more than ample evidence that he was a master of dermatology from the clinical, pathological, and therapeutic aspects.

In his field Kaposi concerned himself chiefly with syphilis, its lesions to the skin and mucosa, its aetiology and treatment. He established dermatitis herpetiformis (first described by von Hebra) as an entity and also lymphoderma perniciosa and lichen ruber moniliformis. With Hebra, Brett (no information available) and Bateman (no information available, but could be H. R. Bateman) he wrote some of the early descriptions of lupus erythematosus of the skin and he noted the systemic involvement in 1872, and in 1875 described the rash as "butterfly». He described rhinoscleroma and rhinophyma and in his book related skin disease to the body as a whole.

His list of publications up to 1899 numbers 122 larger works and special publications.

His son was Hermann Kaposi, born 1872.

The man tattoo
In Wiener Medizinische Wochenshrift No.2, 1872 Kaposi published on the strange case of The Tattooed Man from Burma, a sort of walking art gallery, or a body artist, as he might be called today. This man was tattooed on virtually every square inch of his body, including his private parts. He had been forced to undergo this treatment, which had been done by one man, in daily sessions of three hours every day for three months. This is an extract from Kaposi’s description of the man:

”The tattooed man is of middle height, handsome, powerfully built and well-nourished. . . . From the top of his head to his toes, and even including his penis, the skin is covered with dark blue tattooed figures among which are strewn smaller figures in red. Only the under surface of the penis, the scrotum, and the soles of the feet are untattooed. In the spaces between the figures is some kind of writing consisting of blue and red letters or characters . . .

His scalp and the skin under his beard are also tattooed. On his forehead on either side of the midline are symmetrical panthers facing each other, and between them are characters. On the parts of the cheeks free of beard are star-like figures.

The designs of animals are tattooed in blue, all of medium size, and symmetrically arranged on either side of the midline of the body. For instance, on the upper chest on either side are two crowned sphinxes, two snakes, to elephants, two swans, between which is an owl-like bird.

The additional kinds of animals figured are: apes, leopard, cats, tigers, eagles, storks, pigs, frogs, peacocks, guinea hen, humans, panthers, lions, crocodiles, lizards, salamanders, dragons, fish, gazelles, mussels, snails, as well as all kinds of other subjects such as bows, quivers, arrows, fruits, leaves, and flowers.

The individual tattooed figures are of remarkable artistic quality, graceful in line and finished to perfection. Some are realistic; others are stylised.”

The tattooed man was exhibited to the professors of dermatology and various other faculties on numerous occasions, and Kaposi himself exhibited him to a very well attended meeting of the Medical Society on October 27, 1870. The illustrations to this case were published in Volume 8 of Dr. Hebra's Atlas der Hautkrankheiten [Atlas of Diseases of the Skin].

The following selection was published in The Lancet on June 1, 1872 (p.777).
The Tattooed Man
Sir: I was present at the Vienna Medical Society when the famous tattooed man was displayed to the members. Many of them were by this time tolerably familiar with his appearance and the real interest of the evening centered in a learned professor who had undertaken to decipher the red dots freely scattered among the many elaborate and beautiful figures on the skin. After some difficulty, arising from the very formless character of the inscriptions, they were at last pronounced to be written in the Burmese language, and much confirmation is thus given to the striking theory of Dr. Gascoigne. It was felt at the time that the man's statement of his own case savored strongly of romance, and that the punishment of a pirate by a semibarbarous tribe like the Tartars would probably have assumed a more summary form than ornamenting his body with the most exquisitely graven designs. It now seems much more probable, as suggested by the local papers at the time, that he had voluntarily submitted to a painful operation in hopes of reaping his reward from the curiosity of the public. It would be interesting to know whether in Chalmer's case any glandular enlargement was observed. Virchow (Cellular Pathology) has described and figured the deposit of pigment which invariably occurs in the first group of lymphatic glands adjoining tattooed skin, and it was considered somewhat remarkable that careful search could detect none of that engorgement which so extensive a surface irritation might have been expected to produce. on the Viennese specimen. Possibly, however, the absorption of a certain amount of coloring matter is not necessarily attended by enlargement of the gland sufficient to be felt by the finger. - I am, Sir, your most obedient servant, Robert Farquharson May, 1872.

We thank Matus Mikula for information submitted.


Works by Moriz Kohn Kaposi
  • Die Syphilis der Schleimhaut der Mund-, Rachen-, Nasen- und Kehlkopfhöhle.
    Habilitation thesis; Erlangen, 1866.
  • Über ein eigentümliches Neugebilde an der Nase.
  • Rhinosclerom. With Ferdinand von Hebra. 1870.
  • Idiopathisches multiples Pigmentsarkom der Haut.
    Archiv für Dermatologie und Syphilis, Prague, 1872; 4: 265-273.
    English translation in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, New York, 1982; 32: 342-347.
  • Die Syphilis der Haut- und der angrenzenden Schleimhäute. Vienna, 1875.
  • Über Zoster recidivus, hystericus, gangraenosus, epidemicus.
    In a series of papers starting 1876.
  • Über Dermatitis diabetica. 1876 an on.
  • Pathologie und Therapie der Hautkrankheiten in Vorlesungen für praktische Ärzte und Studirende.
    Dritte, umgearbeitete u. vermehrte Auflage. Wien and Leipzig, Urban & Schwarzenberg, 1880. XII + 1003 pages. This work was first published in 1880.
    French translation in 1881 by Ernest Besnier and Adrien Doyon:
    Leçons sur les maladies de la peau.
    English translation by James C. Johnston in 1895, reprinted in Classics of Medicine Library, Birmingham, Alabama, 1985:
    Pathology and treatment of diseases of the skin : for practitioners and students.
  • Handbuch der Syphilis. Stuttgart, 1880.
  • Gedächtnisrede auf Hebra.
    Wiener medizinische Wochenschrift, 1880.
  • Ueber Xeroderma pigmentosum.
    Medizinische Jahrbücher, Wien, 1882: 619-633.
  • Ueber eine neue Form von Hautkrankheit, “Lymphodermia perniciosa”.
    Medizinische Jahrbücher, Wien, 1885, 129-147.
    First description of lymphoderma perniciosa, premyocytic or leukemic erythrodermia.
  • Handatlas der Hautkrankheiten für Studierende und Ärzte.
    3 volumes. Vienna and Leipzig, 1898-1900. With its 376 color plates, this is one of the most extensive and valuable collections of illustrations in the dermatological literature. Biographical:
  • Classics in Clinical Dermatology.
    Charles C. Thomas, Publisher, 1970, edited by Shelley and Crissey. Obituaries:
  • Archiv für Dermatologie und Syphilis, Berlin, 1902, 60. H. 1. (Ludwig Pick).
  • Münchener medizinische Wochenschrift, 1902, 49: 708 (Ernest Finger).
  • Deutsche medizinische Wochenschrift, Berlin, 1902, 28: 267 (Johann Heinrich Rille).
  • Berlner klinische Wochenschrift, 1902, 39: 251 (Oskar Lassar).
We thank Rudolf Kleinert, Bad Reichenhall, Germany, for information sybmitted.

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