The diagnosis on canvas is a curious medical analysis by which the ailments that the characters represented in the paintings suffered in the past are identified. Without going any further, thanks to the aforementioned diagnosis, anthropologist Raffaella Bianucci from the University of Warwick unveiled breast cancer in Michelangelo’s sculpture titled La Notte as well as in paintings by Michele Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio and Maso da San Friano. We already talked about this in a previous piece.
Continuing with the analysis of the painted diseases, we find the grotesque portrait of an elderly woman whose deformed skull on the front, added to her protruding ears and the expression on her face, give her a simian appearance. The box is known as The ugly duchess and it was painted by the Flemish painter Quentin Massys around the year 1513.
Until at the beginning of this century, a professor of medicine at University College London – Dr. Michael Baum – made the diagnosis on canvas, the aforementioned portrait was taken as a satire to the elderly who try to appear young. When Baum pointed out that the shape of the skull reflected what is known as Paget’s disease of bone, the portrait of the Duchess began to be looked at with different eyes.
Osteitis deformans or Paget’s disease of the bone is an inflammation of the bone tissue that leads to the destruction of the bone, causing its deformation in its process. In some cases, the loss of bone mass is accompanied by arthritis and hearing problems. It owes its name to the British surgeon James Paget (1814-1899) who in 1877 described the disease for the first time when he found progressive bone deformities in the skull of a patient. They were so accentuated that the helmet of the cavalry guard, the regiment of which it was a part, no longer fit.
The cases of painted diseases are numerous, from Goya with his old women in the painting that he titled ‘El tiempo’, and where syphilis is manifested in a skeletal elderly woman, to cretinism or congenital hypothyroidism presented in Velázquez’s painting entitled ‘El niño of Vallecas’
Also Paget noted that this same patient suffered from anterior curvature of the spine and arcuate deformity of the legs. When the patient died, at the time of doing an autopsy, Paget could see that his bones were as soft as butter. They could be cut with a barber razor.
The cases of painted diseases are numerous, from Goya with his old women in the painting that he titled Time, and where syphilis is manifested in a skeletal elderly woman, up to cretinism or congenital hypothyroidism that presents the painting by Velázquez entitled The boy from Vallecas and that according to the note from the Prado Museum where the work is exhibited, “the portrayed person was part of the large group of monsters, dwarfs and buffoons that populated the Spanish court since the 16th century.”
The cretinism suffered by the aforementioned Velazquez character is a disease of the thyroid hormones whose effects are obvious in people who suffer from it. As can be seen in Velázquez’s painting, the skull is disproportionate to the face.
Arrived here, it should be noted that neither Quentin Massys, nor Goya, nor Velázquez, nor the Renaissance painters who revealed breast cancer with their works, knew that the models used in their paintings suffered from ailments that, over time, were to have a name and surname. Nor did they dare to think that thanks to the pictorial testimony they were going to be studied by the diagnosis on canvas; a Hippocratic analysis in its proper measure, and which consists in asking questions of the impression caused by the sick figure. With the passage of time, most of the answers have ceased to have a mocking essence, to become scientific answers.
The stone ax is a section where Montero Glez, with the will of prose, exercises his particular siege to scientific reality to show that science and art are complementary forms of knowledge