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Medicine on the walls of the art gallery

- Featured Image

Distinguishing medical conditions from artists’ stylistic embellishments can contribute to our historical understanding of diseases like arthritis

When visiting art galleries, one often sees abnormal anatomical features depicted in paintings and sculptures. In the recent Brisbane exhibition of works from the Prado museum in Spain, viewers could find instances of medical conditions in the works of several artists — for example, dwarfism (Velasquez) and club-foot (Ribera), as well as mandibular abnormalities in Hapsburg family members (Titian).1 Here, we report that we have observed what we argue to be pathological changes, albeit subtle ones, depicted in the hands of two portrait subjects in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Portrait 1: Cosimo I de’ Medici in armour

Cosimo I de’ Medici (1519–1574), Duke of Florence from 1537 and Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1569, was painted in about 1545 by his court artist Agnolo Bronzino (1503–1572), a master of the late Renaissance mannerist style.2,