Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Lavinia Fontana – Ambras syndrome

Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man . . .
Genesis 27:11

The Ambras syndrome is a rare genetic disorder characterized by an excessive growth of hair over the whole body—especially the face, ears, arms, shoulders, back, and legs—and sometimes accompanied by an overgrowth of the gums. Caused by a defect in one of the chromosomes, it appears to have been first encountered in the Middle Ages in Pedro Gonzales (Petrus Gonsalvus) from the Canary Islands, who lived from 1537 to 1618. His three daughters, Maddalena, Francesca, and Antonietta were also affected. They were named the Ambras family, after the castle in Innsbruck, Austria, where their portraits were found. Since the original description only about 50 such persons have been reported. They have often been considered to be natural wonders, curiosities, animals, werewolves, or presented as gifts. Some have been circus performers, often going under names such as wolf man, lion-faced man, dog-faced man, or the bearded woman.


Petrus Gonzalez Antonietta Gonzalez
Portrait of Petrus Gonzales, ca. 1580
Oil on canvas
Ambras Castle, Gemäldegalerie, Kunsthistorisches Museum
Portrait of Antonietta Gonzalez, ca. 1595
Oil on canvas
Musée du Château, Blois


Lavinia Fontana (1552–1614) was a prominent painter working in Bologna and Rome. She was one of the earliest woman artists to achieve wide recognition, remembered to this day for her excellent portraits and religious paintings. She painted a portrait of Antonietta Gonzalez ca. 1595, the 8–10-year-old daughter of Pedro Gonzalez.



GEORGE DUNEA, MD, Editor-in-Chief


Highlighted in Frontispiece Winter 2013 – Volume 5, Issue 1

Winter 2013  |  Sections  |  Art Flashes

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