When taking care of the sick the physician carries out a social and moral work, he activates in the field of ethics, which means truth and virtue, and not lie and vice – Dr. Nicolae Minovici
On the occasion of the reopening of “Dr. Nicolae Minovici” Museum on December 23rd, Romfilatelia and the Bucharest Municipality Museum launched an album dedicated to this moment, accompanied by a beautiful medal which reminds of Dr. Nicolae Minovici’s most beloved motto: “Labor Improbus Omnia Vincit”. The album, edited by Romfilatelia, is titled “Nicolae Minovici, pioneer of social medicine”.
The Minovici family marked the history of Bucharest, and not only, through its involvement in science and in the social and cultural life of the time, their achievements, ideas and foundations having brought significant changes in the Romanian society.
Faithful to the maxim Labor omnia vincit improbus (Hard work conquers all), three of the Minovici family members – Nicolae (1868-1941), Mina (1858-1933) and Stefan (1867-1935) – bequeathed Romania with important edifices and institutions in areas of pharmacy, forensics or chemistry, such as the General Association of the Romanian Pharmaceutical Industry and the General Association of Romanian Chemists, dozens of research papers on general medicine, forensic medicine, criminology, pure and applied chemistry, the Salvation Society, the Forensics Institute, the Emergency Hospital. Their foundations set the bases of the modernization of medicine and law by reorganizing forensic medicine. At the same time, they also brought their contribution to the evolution of society, in the urbanistic and social domains, through the measures they took in the sanitation of Bucharest’s slums and the control of squalor, vagrancy and begging.
150 years ago, the Minovici family welcomed its seventh member, Nicolae, who was to become an important representative of Romanian medicine at the beginning of the 20th century, with significant contributions in the evolution of Romanian forensics and the promotion of Romanian folk art.
Ever since his childhood, Nicolae was a stubborn and voluntary person. Passionate about sciences and art, he went to primary school at No. 1 Communal School in Brăila, and in 1891, after graduating from the St. Sava Highschool in Bucharest, enrolled at the Belle-Arte School where he studied for one year.
The insistence and interventions of his elder brother, Mina, a father-like figure for his brothers due to the early death of their father, Stefan, persuaded Nicolae to return to studying sciences and consequently enrolled at the Faculty of Medicine. Despite all this, Nicolae remained passionate about art and was defined as a great art collector interested especially in Romanian folk art.
During his studies he worked as a sketcher and a preparer of the dissection laboratory of the Surgery and Gynecology Clinic and Institute, and later on as an assistant at the Histology Department.
The series of his successes started in 1896, when Nicolae Minovici succeeded in identifying the culprit of a theft, with the help of fingerprints. Identifying a delinquent based on fingerprints was a first for Romania.
As a result of the emergence of a large number of tattoos of diverse symbols in the 19th century, in 1898 Nicolae Minovici studied this subject in his dissertation titled Tattoos in Romania, published in the same year and marking another first. He dedicated a large part of his life to studying pathology, psychology and criminology, discovering similarities between the tattoos of different assassins and their criminal behavior. At the same time, his paper highlights the importance of tattoos in forensic studies and in identifying bodies. Minovici collected the tattoos he took off the bodies he studied and these are still being preserved today at the Forensics Institute Museum.
He continued his studies from 1899 to 1901 in Berlin and worked at various institutions (Pathologic Anatomy Institute and the Moabit Hospital), where he met a series of great figures of the medical world.
In 1902 Nicolae Minovici was appointed coroner at the Ilfov Courthouse, assistant manager of the Forensics Institute and also forensics professor at the School of State Sciences. During the same year he was appointed by the City Hall to solve the issues of begging and vagrancy in Bucharest.
Continuing his breakthroughs, in 1904 Nicolae Minovici published his research paper Study on Hanging in Paris and Bucharest, which was unique in pioneering Romanian medicine. His paper, greatly appreciated by forensics in Romania and abroad, and still applicable today, is based on Nicolae Minovici’s own experiences regarding suffocation through self-induced mechanic strangulation. He was the only medic in the history of medicine who attempted controlled hanging experiments and didn’t die as a result.
Constantly preoccupied by the needs of those around him, Nicolae Minovici set a new breakthrough by founding, in 1906, the first Rescuing Society in the Balkans, similar to present-day NGOs. The Salvation Society was organized based on the model of the one in Vienna, but with a new element: for the first time in the history of emergency medicine, the doctor accompanied the ambulance on terrain, unlike the rest of Europe, where the ambulance was accompanied only by medical assistants. This way, under the direct guidance of Dr. Minovici, the first rescue team started its activity. It was made up of a coachman and a city sergeant using a horse carriage, which was bought by Nicolae Minovici and modified according to his project so that it may carry ill people laid on a stretcher. The society was situated in an old building, on Dâmbovița’s banks, around the Izvor park from today.
Also in 1906, Dr. Nicolae Minovici engaged the help of final year students from the Faculty of Medicine in order to commence their training in a new area: “Emergency help in cases of accidents”. Furthermore, he offered them the use of the Society’s ambulances, medical pouches and everything they needed to do their profession, this representing the beginning of the Salvation (today a synonym for ambulance) in Bucharest. The society was supported through donations, and it was never funded by the City Hall, although there existed a law that stipulated such an institution should exist and should be financed from the local budget. This is how things looked like until 1948, when the Salvation Society was nationalized. Within the Salvation Society there also existed other social care institutions such as the Samarinean School, or the Office for Work Assistance of Beggars in Bucharest, which was very active until the First World War.
A few years later, Nicolae Minovici, noticing that the Romanian medical services were incomplete without a specialized hospital which could take over the patients brought by ambulance, took the necessary steps to create an emergency hospital which was opened in 1934. Initially situated on the banks of Dâmbovița and having a surgery department of 60 beds, it was financed from Dr. Minovici own funds, after he mortaged his house. This is where all the sick people were treated, no matter their possibilities of paying for medical care. The same year, a toxicology department was also created in the hospital. On August 24th 1944, the hospital’s building on Dâmbovița’s banks was destryoed by German bombings. The hospital was moved inside the building of the Antoniu Sanatory, and later on, in 1949, was moved again in a new location on Calea Floreasca, where it remains until today.
In 1909, Nicolae Minovici was promoted head of the Forensics Department, and in 1915, was appointed Reader in forensic medicine and lecturer of this discipline at the Faculty of Medicine.
In 1919, after the First World War, he teached at the Forensics Department of the Cluj University, where he founded the Forensics Institute.
In 1926 he took over the position of mayor of the 3rd Blue district in Bucharest, which encompassed the quarters of Rahova, Grozăvești, Mandravela, Dealul Spirii, Cotroceni, 13 Septembrie, Șerban Vodă. For this part of the city, which was characterized by the dirty, crowded slums, surounded by piles of trash, his mandate was beneficiary, making his name part of the slums’ folklore: „Minovici demolishes all/ Minovici is a pickaxe!”. Paved and regularly cleaned streets, wastelands turned into parks, the construction of the first underground toilets in Bucharest, as well as a place for the street scavengers – these are only some of his accomplishments as Mayor. During his mandate he fought to eradicate begging and donated money to the poor people and to orphanages.
Highly appreciated by the people, in 1934 he was elected mayor by the people in Băneasa village – today the district of the same name – without even running as candidate. He offered schoolarships to hard-working students in Băneasa and a few hundred people with various hardships benefited of his philantropic nature: he lent money for recovering homes, for medical care services or helped people with buying food and wood for the winter.
Starting with 1936 he was president of the Ilfov Medical Board, and after two years, in 1938, he was also president of the national Medical Board. At the same time, he was concerned with banishing illegal medical activities, and took steps against closing down cosmetics salons running with unqualified staff and also fought against impostors who, by speculating the naivety of the people, were practicing magnetism or telepathy. He was a scavenger hunter of “peasant doctors” – known as witches, midwifes, crones – and with regards to this he published a study called The Social Danger of Occult Practices, especially on mental health.
His medical activity was completed by his passion for art. This way, in 1904 he launched a project of building a Romanian folk-style house close to the northern barrier of the city. The building, designed by his good friend, architect Cristofi Cerchez, presents elements of traditional and European style. First of all, the architect used the compositional urban syntax, with a heightened level and an attic, which gave the façade a unified look and a compact interior division of rooms of various sizes. From traditional architecture he borrowed the tower on the southern part, inspired by the cula in Oltenia, fortified with an abutment. This element gives originality to the building among other neo-Romanian buildings. On the upper level there is a prolonged terrace, made up of two contrasting elements: an Italian loggia and a folk-style porch. They are separated on the inside, as the façade keeps its unified look, but the decorating elements showcase the identity of the style that they belong to. Thus we come across twisted columns and incised pillars, fretted stone panels with acanthus leaves and jagged head pieces with apotropaic motifs.
The Villa of Unrest, so called because it was the place where he came to work on his projects, or the Villa with Bells, as it is also known, is considered one of the most remarkable monuments of neo-Romanian style.
Although it was built to serve as a place of rest, in 1906 the building’s destination changed and became a shelter for a vast collection of Romanian ethnographic art. The building’s room division was determined by the vast categories of collected objects and the way they were exhibited. The collection grew between 1919 and 1940 through successive waves of acquisitions.
The building was not constantly inhabited, but, at least until 1937, it was the place for family reunions, meetings with colleagues from abroad, who thusly also had the chance to see a part of Romania’s culture, attend conferences and scientific session, as well as various professional debates.
We should note that Dr. Nicolae Minovici founded the first Bucharestian museum of folk art. He outran the ambitious project of Tzigara Samurcaș who, in 1912, set the bases of the Romanian Peasant Museum, but the building was finished only in 1941. The Patrimony of Nicolae Minovici Museum was organized in the builing of the State Mint, with the support of Spiru Haret, on October 1st 1906. This museum space was to become the National Art Museum in 1912. At the beginning of 1906, Dr. Nicolae Minovici’s museum already functioned as a private museum that had outran the public innitiative.
The institution’s patrimony reflects the interest in art of a 20th century collector, and is largely represented by textile objects – shirts, ia blouses, skirts, and headkerchiefs – and ceramic objects. Also, the museum owns important collections of icons, painted eggs and wooden items typical of an authentic peasant housekeeping.
Nicolae Minovici donated his collection, together with the afferent land of 1.38 hectars, to the Commune of Bucharest. According to the donation act, the villa was to serve „for ever” as a museum of national art under the name of Prof.Dr. Nicolae Minovici National Art Museum. Moreover, closer to the end of his life, his financial economies were entirely donated to associations that cared for abandoned or orphaned children.
Having only just retired in 1938, doctor Nicolae Minovici fell ill with throat cancer, and despite the tracheotomy he underwent in Vienna in 1940, the doctor continued to live with excruciating pains until the end of his life, on June 26th 1941.
Tirelessly devoted to an activity of higher purpose, meant to contribute directly to the physical and moral health of the people, a passionte promoter of the cultural traditions of the Romanian people, Prof.Dr. Nicolae Minovici has become one of the greatest names of the Romanian people and of the world medical elite.