Breast cancer through the fine art of the Stone Ax

Breast cancer through the fine art of the Stone Ax


Details of Rubens’ painting “Three Graces” on the Prado website.

According to Galen of Pergamum, cancer lumps they were the effect of black bile when it was trapped in the body. To end this change, he proposed an operation. With respect to breast cancerGalen argued that the way to stop it was cauterization, unlike Hippocrates, who advised not to touch the tumor because it would spread if it touched it.

In an article from time ago, gathered in the prestigious Clinical diary it is explained to us in detail, as in the well-known Rubens painting called Three graces, one of the female characters shows one of the breasts with changes related to possible breast cancer. In another painting, dated a few years later, the Baroque painter Rembrandt also paints Harmenszoon van Rijn, better known simply as Rembrandt, the wife of one of David’s soldiers, the King of the Jews. The woman is naked and the picture has a name Bathsheba with David’s letter. In it, you can see how one of the above breasts develops a tumor that extends to the armpit and may be well related to breast cancer. It is known that the model Rembrandt used for the painting was Hendrickje Stoffels, his second wife, who died years later. We believe that his death was caused by the development of a tumor.

“Bathsheba with David’s letter” from Rembrandt.Rembrandt / Musée du Louvre

Barthélémy Cabrol (1529 – 1603), surgeon of King Henry IV of France, began performing mastectomies to treat tumors

However, neither of these two paintings would be the first artistic expression where the disease appears. To get to the first artistic representations where breast cancer appears, we must go back to the Renaissance, to the time when Barthélémy Cabrol (1529 – 1603), a surgeon of King Henry IV of France, began performing mastectomies to treat tumors. It is known that at the end of the 16th century, Barthélémy Cabrol performed a radical mastectomy on a 35-year-old girl with removal of the pectoral muscle.

Representation of the night in the tomb of Giuliano de'Medici.  The work of Miguel Ángel.
Representation of the night in the tomb of Giuliano de’Medici. The work of Michelangelo.

At the grave Giuliano de MediciIn Florence we can see that one of the statues, the one that represents at night he shows one of his breasts with his nipple drawn, characteristic of breast cancer. The work is by Michelangelo. However, if we want to approach the tumor in this work, it is more evident when we meet the painted version by Michele Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio and where we more visibly than the relief we appreciate the nipple retraction. statue by Michelangelo.

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In the 16th century, in the middle of the Renaissance, the disease began to manifest itself in nudes. Without going any further, inside Allegory of power, painter Tommaso d’Antonio Manzuoli, better known as Maso de San Friano, paints a woman sitting on a lion. You can also see the effect of breast cancer in one of her breasts. However, we owe the first artistic expression in which the disease manifests to us to Rafael Sanzi and his painting entitled La Fornarina, topless, in which a young woman points her hand to a sick breast. The work was created between 1518 and 1520.

“Allegory of Power”, by Tommaso d’Antonio Manzuoli,

Until medical science added years, the current theory about the cause of cancer was the theory of mood swings of Galen, a Greek physician who practiced in ancient Rome. In the 17th century, however, the French surgeon Jean Louis Petit (1674 – 1750) known for the invention of the turnstile merged breast cancer and axillary lymph nodes. It can be said that he was the first surgeon to approach in his writings what we now consider to be a radical mastectomy. It led surgeon Alfred Velpeau (1795-1867) to write his work Treatise on breast and dairy diseases, a careful study of the lymphatic cause used by North American surgeon William Stewart Halsted (1852-1922) to perform the radical mastectomy that bears his name and from which current mastectomies are derived.

“La Fornarina” by Rafael Sanzio.

Although breast cancer has existed since antiquity, it was not until the Renaissance that it became public in painting and sculpture. Until then, it was a local disease; Today we know that it is a systemic disease. In the days of Raphael and Michelangelo, when humanism began to shape a new conception of the world, breast cancer began to manifest itself in the visual arts, as if artists wanted to feed the scientific future with examples of disease. So that no one can assume that cancer did not exist in the past.

Stone ax is the part where Montero Glez, with the will of prose, practices his concrete siege of scientific reality to show that science and art are complementary forms of knowledge

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