Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Adriaen Brouwer: surgery in the tavern

Adriaen Brouwer (1605/6-1638) was a Flemish Baroque painter who specialized in genre scenes, particularly in taverns. He favored humble, unkempt peasants engaged in various activities, from drunken brawls to fireside chats. In these paintings the village barber-surgeons are shown performing operations on the back and the foot of peasants, who wince from a procedure done without anesthesia.


  Städel Museum, Frankfurt


In medieval times monks and priests were often the only educated persons in the community and also functioned as physicians, treating most illnesses by bloodletting and employing barbers to do the venesections. But when the Church ruled it sacrilegious for clergymen to draw blood from the human body, the barbers took over the business and gradually expanded its scope. They would also pull teeth; give enemas; set fractures; treat burns, hemorrhoids, ulcers, tumors, and wounds; and perform various surgical procedures, not always under the most sanitary conditions, as indicated above.




Spring 2019  |  Sections  |  Art Flashes

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