Early 17th Century
Portrait of a Trepanning Surgeon

Oil on oak panel, inscribed top left ‘AETATIS SUAE 32’
Image size: 27 x 35 inches (68.5 x 89 cm)
Contemporary style handmade frame

POA

 

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This is a portrait of a medical figure from the early 17th century Habsburg Empire.

The man is standing holding a trepanation instrument and is accompanied by a skull. At the time of its painting trepanation was a novel practice that was on the cutting edge of medicine, having received fame after the process was performed successfully on Phillip II Spain’s son.

The man is dressed in black, the colour of choice in the Low Countries during this period. To the modern eye, his clothing appears to be relatively sombre, but on closer inspection, it is apparent that the artist has conveyed the elevated status of his sitter through bringing out the differing textures of the material that make up his costume. There was no medical dress in this period but the high fashion is suggestive of someone who was high status – indeed many of these doctors became nobles.

The heraldry in the top right hand corner of the work places the sitter in the United Provinces. On the coat of arms the eagle emerging from a division per pale (the vertical) is commonly known as a Frisian eagle and the rest of the composition is very much from the Low Countries. The presence of the tulips illustrates that the sitter lived late in the seventeenth century.