The Art Of Medical Diagnosis Of Six Renowned Portraits

Famous portraits have been diagnosed by various medical researchers over the years. Apart from revealing the hidden medical truths behind those paintings, these also depict the enhanced observation and visual thinking skills of these physicians. Here are six renowned portraits and their medical diagnosis.

1. The Ugly Dutchess

The Ugly Dutches


The Ugly Dutchess, one of the best known works of the Flemish artist Quentin Matsys, was created around 1513. The painting which is now in the National Gallery, London shows a grotesque old woman with withered breasts and wrinkled skin. Her unfortunate looks are due to an advanced form of Paget’s disease which she was suffering from. It extended her upper lip, pushed her nose up, and enlarged her jaw bones. Its distorting effect is also seen in her eye sockets, hands, chin, forehead and collarbones. This investigation and diagnosis was done by emeritus professor of surgery at University College London, Michael Baum, and his student, Christopher Cook.

2. Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa


Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa portrait needs no introduction at all. For, this painting of the beautiful Mona Lisa is often reproduced and displayed by other artists from around the globe. Vito Franco, professor of pathological anatomy, University of Palermo has diagnosed that Mona Lisa was suffering from xanthelasma, which is revealed by the presence of a fatty-tissue tumor on her right hand. American neurological researchers suggest that her seemingly disappearing enigmatic smile is the consequence of the manner by which the brain processes some elements of light.

3. Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time

Mona Lisa


Also referred to as A triumph of Venus and as An Allegory of Venus and Cupid, this painting now kept in the National Gallery, London, was created by the Florentine artist Agnolo Bronzino. In this erotic work the less obvious elements have been medically diagnosed. Oblivion who is trying to cast a veil over the below occurring sexual act is seen with missing eyes and hollow head. This portrays the neurological effects of untreated syphilis which is characterized by dementia linked with general paresis, and optic nerve involvement. Below Oblivion is the figure of a tortured man who is perceived to symbolize jealousy. This character displays clinical signs of secondary syphilis. This is evident on his fingers pulling at his hair which bears patchy syphilitic alopecia. He also has reddened ocular sclera. Further, his toothless gums display signs of a sero-sanguinous discharge and probably a gumma situated on his lower palate. Mercury poisoning which was used to treat syphilis infection in Renaissance times may be the reason for his loss of teeth. In the right side of the painting is a playful child whose right foot is pierced by large rose thorns. However, he shows no signs of pain due to the lack of sensation, which is also a consequence of syphilitic nerve damage and myleopathy.

4. An Old Man and His Grandson

An Old Man and His Grandson


This painting from 1490 is one of the renowned works by the Italian Renaissance artist Domenico Ghirlandaio. The old man carries his physical deformity in a noble way. His deformed nose is due to a condition called rhinophyma, which gradually progresses owing to hypertrophy of the sebaceous glands located on the nose tip. This often observed in cases of persistent acne rosacea which affects mostly males past middle age.

5. Boy with a Puppet

Boy with a Puppet


Boy with a puppet is a painting by Giovanni Francesco Caroto. It is from this painting that Dr.Harry Angelman derived the name Happy Puppet Syndrome, which was earlier called Angelman’s Syndrome. The happy expression on the boy’s face and the puppet’s jerky movement evoked Angelman of the behaviours manifested by his three young paediatric ward patients with eponymous syndrome. The cause of the syndrome which affects about one in every 20,000 children is the deletion of some parts of chromosome 15. It leads to delay in development and intellect, disturbance in sleep, jerky movements, seizures, and frequent smiling or laughter.

6. Portrait of Francesco Giamberti da Sangallo

Portrait of Francesco Giamberti da Sangallo


Portrait of Francesco Giamberti da Sangallo from around 1482- 1483 was created by the Renaissance painter Piero Di Cosimo. His face displays signs of light gray stubble and his left superficial temporal artery abnormally noticeable. He was suffering from Temporal arteritis or giant-cellular arteritis or Horton’s disease which is a systemic immune-mediated vascultilis affecting large-to-medium sized arteries, preferring the cranial vessels, particularly the temporal branch of the carotidartery. Symptoms and signs exhibited by it include myalgia, weight loss, toungenumbness, and headache. Among the most dreadful complications caused by it, blindness is the worst.

Art applied to medicine is a leading field of visual communication for health care and science which is built on a strong foundation of artistic technique, scientific knowledge and clear visual communication. The above given are some excellent samples.

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