Professor of Medical Radiology Dr René Gilbert (1898 –1962) Pioneer of Medical Radiotherapy and Radiophotography of Painting Works.
• The Medical Career
Born at Geneva, Switzerland, of French origin, his medical course involved experience in Paris with Antoine Béclère, before coming back to Geneva in 1920, as chief medical doctor at the Canton Geneva’s Hospital Central Radiology Institute.
In 1925, he is appointed privat docent, and in 1930 he is named lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Geneva. He eventually obtains ordinary professorship of medical radiology in 1934. During his complete career, he undertakes to rationalise and limit the harmful effects of X rays for the patients, and makes proposals on very strict application methods.
Accomplished clinician, he continuously adapts to technical progress of this new science, that requires great quality imaging, in order to perform the best and careful diagnosis with great precision. Quickly, the fame of this great teacher overcomes the borders. René Gilbert crosses oceans and continents, to share his results and researches in this therapeutics (among others France, Italy, Spain, Great Britain, USA :Chicago, Canada : Montreal, Mexico, Northern Africa,…). He is one of the very first to demonstrate the favourable results of radiotherapy treaments for the Hodgkin's disease(1) (lymph glands’ cancer). His full authority in this context leads him to advise and guide number of his doctors colleagues throughout the world, well impressed by his persistence, dedication and conviction. He then founds the first Anti-Cancer Centre in French speaking Switzerland. His clear teachings initiates many disciples and future professors – which Dr. Léon Babaiantzis his favorite – to physics, radiology and radio-diagnosis, by presenting problems so as to reduce their complexity and synthesize the early days of interdisciplinarity.
Great humanist, he impressed all students at the patients’ bedside with his smoothness and delicate professionality. Made knight of the Légion d’Honneur of the French Government in 1954, he is awarded the title of Officer of Légion d’Honneur post mortem.
• Radiology in Service of Art
Despite huge professional charges and little free time at disposal, Professor René Gilbert is devoted when possible to photography and music. But it is by linking photography with X rays (radiophtography) of the art works that he excels, due to his pioneering spirit and his scientific approach of any subject. Little before the Second World War, the Marquis Alvarez de Sotomayor, – a patient of Dr René Gilbert and Director of the Prado Museum of Madrid – asks him to shelter major paintings. In 1939, they are installed at the Museum of Art and History at Geneva,and a great public exhibition is organized. The then Museum Director Waldemar Deonna gave permission to radiophotography the paintings. And René Gilbert to accumulate an impressive amount of documentation.
It was not so much the artistic curiosity, but rather more the techniques employed by artists that emerged from the shade. And the demonstration of certain questionable or disputed works. The methodic study of masterpieces through the means of radiologic exam enabled to note what was the use of which technique, pigments and supports. That was a very efficient advancement within authentification of the painted works. (See the masterpieces radiophotographic examples on the French page below.)
René Gilbert liked to present his paintings radiophotos, while comparing scientifically the reproductions. He enabled the paintings’ revival, by highlighting details of alterations, wefts and patches, or ignored signatures as well. He provided numerous files very finely supported upon the masterpieces from the Prado Museum, such as theMaja desnudafrom Francisco de Goya, those respresenting the long pointed faces of Greco, or the famous ones of Velasquez.
From these researches, he published in the 1950’s Gazette des Beaux-Artsan article on the works of Greco (2), that became indisputable recognition of the compared radiophotographic analysis of painting works. The reputation of Professor René Gilbert extends to international significance, even his work of final publication could not be achieved, due to his health problems.
More remarkable, for it is so precious for the whole of christianity, he went to Torino (Italy) on request of Radiology Professor Mario Ponzio, to achieve radiological photographs of the Torino Shroud, representing the presumed face and body of Jesus.
Professor René Gilbert has been a dedicated and complete man of medicine : true doctor, humanist, serious practitioner, scientific researcher and scholar, master in his specialty and profoundly spiritual in his human approach. A real example to follow in this third millenary, where medical technology should have the duty to continue serving the art as instrument, but not to running it.