Saga of a physicians family, the Frank in XIXth century Europe


André J. Fabre June 2013

 The late eighteenth century and the beginning XIXth centuries saw emerging a new type of physicians : a good example is the Frank Family : Louis (1761-1825), his uncle Jean-Pierre (Johannes Peter)( (1745-1821) and his cousin Joseph (1771-1841 


 Louis Frank began in 1780 his medical studies in Germany, at the Göttingen University and ended in Italy, at Pavia. Gifted for foreign languages, Louis had learned early in life, not only French and German, his mother tongues but Italian, English, German, and Latin

After obtaining his diploma, at  age 25, Louis went in  sabbatical year to explore Italy. He arrived in Milan in January 1797 just in time to attend the entrance of tje French troops. Fascinated by Bonaparte, he did everything to meet him, but in vain.

Back in France, Louis developed as, we shall see in a next chapter, his uncle, for travels : he wanted most visit the mysterious Orient and he went back to Italy, but this time to take a ship  to Egypt. 


 In autumn 1797, Louis arrived in Alexandria and, at once, departed to Cairo. After a few days exploring the dark mazes of the fascinating city, Louis took a felucca to go up the Nile until Aswan.

Fate had decided otherly : in July 1798, Bonaparte invaded Egypt with the French army, like all foreigners residing then in Cairo, Louis was immediately arrested and dragged to prison. He will only get out at the announcement of the first French victories. Louis soon contacted Vivant Denon, head of the French Scientific Mission, who helped him to obtain a meeting with General Bonaparte. From this interview, of which little is known, he obtained the post of physician in the military hospital of Alexandria. He remained there until the departure of the French troops in 1801.


 After Egypt, Louis still addicted to Orient, went to Tunisia. Soonly after  his arrival in Tunis he got the post of private physician of Pasha Hammouda Bey. Life in the palace was not always pleasant as the Bey as well as all  his entourage aalways showed most brutal arrogance: one day,  one of the guards at the Bardo threw to Frank "You're a Christian dog and after all, what Bonaparte against our sublime Bey ...? "

Louis had still to endure all that five long years before returning to France, but he had always in him  his craze for Orient...


 In 1803 just returned to France, Louis left again for the East, this time he had in mind Greece then in the hands of the Ottomans.

On his travel, he manages to spend a few weeks in Venice at that time in full sy  Carnival season. As he writes to a friend  "masks, costumes, which seem to defy eternity, the gondola rides at night by the light of lanterns and musicians serenades donors made a surreal and enchanting atmosphere, "

In 1805 he is arrived in  Janina, Albania, Louis tries, as he always did, to bedome personal physician of a high dignitary. He will have to be physician at the service of the governor of Epirus, Ali Pasha, known for its atrocities, but also his close friendship with Lord Byron.

The Mediterranean world of that time lived in isolation and Louis Frank met in Albania, the famous consul of France, Charles de Pouqueville who had just arrived in office. When Ali Pasha fell in disgrace, Louis had just to come back to France


 Louis remains to Paris for a short period in 1810. It does not take long to leave this time to Corfu as physician of the hospital.

Indeed, Corfu, occupied by France since the Treaty of Campo Formio, was part of France, French department called…"Bouches de Coccyre" in reference to Marseille and the  "Bouches du Rhone"…….

However, after 1815 and the collapse of Empire, everything changed in the Ionian islands : Corfu became Great Britain's protectorate and there was no other choice than to return to France


 Once in Paris, Louis was facing a rather embarrassing political situation: it was 1815 and the only way still open was to take refuge to his uncle, famous physician, as we shall see, in Vienna

Arrived there, Louis married an Austrian girl and tried to find, with help of his uncle, a position : in 1825, he was nominated private physician of the former Empress Marie-Louise, Archduchess of Austria.

In 1817, he became head physician of a psychiatric hospital. Shortly after, he starts a project to open a medical school but, in 1825 he died suddenly in Simmering, a suburb of Vienna

The Life of Louis Frank has countless facets, Undoubtedly, he was an iconic figure of the great Orientalist movement that swept across Europe in the early nineteenth century.

Louis Frank could have said as Lamartine "I was born Oriental and I shall die Oriental" ...


 Jean-Pierre (Johann Peter) Frank, was, as his nephew, a most unusual character. Great traveler as Louis, but also  writer and musician and pioneer on  public health.

He was born into a Franco-German family from Rotalben near Zweibucken in the Rhine valley. He was educated in the parish Catholic school and at the Piarist school of Rastatt and, later, in  Lorraine, at the Jesuit school of Bockenheim. He shoed, since earliest years, a marked disposition for music and songs.

In 1761, Jean-Pierre went to study in Metz then Pont-a-Mousson ("Brücke bei Mousson"), where he devoted intensely to the study of physics.

At 18, however, Jean-Pierre chooses medicine and went to the famed Heidelberg School of Medicine. He stayed there for two years, but went after at the University of Strasbourg, at that time  in German territory.

After graduating set a practice in  Bitsch, in Lorraine, for two years, then Baden-Baden where he got a bright clientele among the rich citizens of the spa.

The following tears were marked by a tragedy: the death of his wife followed a few months later by the death of her child

Jean-Pierre was appointed Director of the Association of Midwives of Baden-Baden he became physician in Bruschal near Karlsruhe in medical charge of the garrison.

The following year, in 1773,  he got the Prince-Bishop of Speyer (Spires) interested in his ideas on sanitary rules and was appointed professor in the School of midwives that had been just created. Thus Jean-Pierre could then entirely  devote his work in public health.

In 1779, Jean-Pierre published a great Encyclopedia in four volumes: "Development of the medical system in Germany[1]" considered as a pioneer advance in terms of public health and social medicine.

The book proposed a wide range of measures to provide to the whole population "a better life from cradle to grave" : domestic hygiene, protection of women in manual labor, education of children and hygiene at school

Thus was created a movement of health reform that would reappear again many years later, in 1848, during the  deep political, economic and social crisis in Germany.

At that time, Jean-Pierre was elected by the Mainz University as professor of physiology and preventive medicine but he preferred  to go to Gottingen in 1784, as professor of clinical medicine with the double task  o hospital  patient care and courses in physiology, pathology and therapeutics.

After such a busy year in Göttingen, Frank wanted a job that would allows him to resume his work on a project of national health reform and he decided to switch to the Faculty of Pavia, in Italy, as Professor of Clinical Medicine.

Jean-Pierre will stay in Pavia nine years during which he did a nice job :  reform of medical education,  improvement of  midwives education, open  a museum of pathological anatomy, a Department of Surgery and School of Pharmacy.

During his years in Pavia, Jean Pierre had a very bright student, Johann Baptist Malfatti, also called Edler von Monteregio or Giovanni Domenico Antonio Malfatti who followed him later  to Vienna to become there, during several years, from 1800 to 1809 Luwwig van Beethoven's personal physician.

During the same time, Frank published the first volume of "Quintessence of diseases"[2] that will be several times re-edited and translated into several languages. He has also published a set of notes on various array of clinical cases, a total of 12 volumes published between 1785 and 1793.

In 1800, Jean-Pierre reaches the top of the medical pyramid as he is nominated professor at the Vienna University and, at the same time, director of the General Hospital, the famous "Wiener Allgemeines Krankenhaus".

Again, under his leadership, profound changes will be implemented: creation of a new forensic amphitheater, opening a museum of pathological anatomy, and expanding broadly the number of beds in  the General Hospital

New ideas were always welcome with Jean-Pierre Frank, so he introduce, after the 1800 outbreak of smallpox in Austria,  a  vaccine directly inspired by  Jennner .

During his stay in Vienna, Jean-Pierre had to face many dissensions with his colleagues and in 1804 he decided to leave Austria to go to  Lithuania where he was offered a position at the University of Vilius. He stayed here 10 months during which, with help of his son Joseph,  who came with him, he reorganized the Faculty of Medicine and create a Chair of Therapeutics.

After Lithuania came Russia: Jean-Pierre was invited in Saint Petersburg by the Tsar Alexander I and became his personal physician for the five following years.

In 1808 Jean-Pierre returned to Vienna, at that time  Napoleon tried to bring him to Paris, but he refused, wishing  to retire to Fribourg and write the last volume of his work on public health. After a whie, he came back to Vienna where his nephew needed his help and died there in 1821.

In conclusion, one can say uncle and nephew were much alike in their passion for travels but Jean-Pierre, precursor in public health,  left a greater name in the History of medical sciences.


 Another character in the saga of the Frank Dynasty is Joseph son of Jean-Pierre, Physician and music composer

Joseph was born in Rastadt and, quite naturally, followed the footsteps of his father going to Pavia  University to study physics and medicine. There he was student of Alessandro Volta, discoverer of electricity.

In 1796 Joseph got his diploma and started as physician at the General Hospital of Vienna

In 1804, he follows his father to Lithuania and the following year, is appointed Professor of Clinical therapeutics in Vilnius Museum where he opened the Museum of Pathology.

Few years after, in 1808 he opens in Vilnius the leading institute of vaccination in Europe and in 1809 an institute of Maternity and neonates care..

In 1829, he returned in Italy, settling on Como Lake,  in  Borgo Vico, a beautiful Villa called Gallietta ("little Gallia") where he wrote his major work "Precepts of universal medicine"[3]

Joseph Frank had a passion for music : together with his wife Kristin Gerhardy, talented soprano, they were enthusiastic admirer of Beethoven and gave many concerts in the Villa. Indeed, historians report  that Joseph gave too many lavish receptions in his Villa but others point our that he was always ready to help the poorest patients...

He died in his beloved Como villa in 1842, leaving  a large amount of money  to  build in Laglio, not far from Georges Clooney's villa, a funeral monument,  a huge pyramid, 20 meters high. Inside is a plaque bearing this message : "To all who enter this threshold, wishes of peace from  a man who was the most peaceful of all human beings "

The memory of Joseph Frank thanks to Mrs Hanska, is still present in Balzac's famed book "The Country Doctor" : the physician with progressive ideas was the physician  of Lake Como…



[1] Jonas Peter Frank ;" System einer vollständigen medicinischen Polizey "

[2] Johannes Peter Frank " De curandis hominum morbis epitome".."(Ed. Nabu Press, Charleston, 2011)

[3] [3] Joseph Frank, " Praxeos médecine universae Praecepta"

Date de dernière mise à jour : 30/07/2013

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