- Clark, Stephanie Brown
- Date of entry: Apr-27-2005
- Last revised: May-17-2007
Among the "scenes from everyday life" which constitute so-called "genre" painting in 17th Century Dutch art, the profession of medicine was often lampooned. In Gerritt Dou’s painting, the doctor is depicted as a deceiving charlatan, marketing his products with impressive but unsubstantiated claims about their effectiveness. In Dou’s hometown of Leiden, with the Blauwpoort (Blue Gatehouse) in the background left, the quack has set up shop outside the studio of a painter. [At the Web Gallery of Art on-line site, select "D" from the Artist Index, scroll down for Dou, select "Page 2".)
The artist gazes out of his window, holding the tools of his trade, a pallet and brushes. Directly beside him the quack stands under a Chinese umbrella, with stopper in his hand, and presents the patent medicine in a large glass vial to his audience. On his table is a document with a large and authoritative red seal, indicating his credentials and bolstering his credibility. On one side is a barber- surgeon’s basin, on the other is a monkey.
A crowd has gathered around, including a huntsman with a dead rabbit suspended on his rifle, a man with vegetables in a cart, and a woman with a pancake griddle and batter in a large bowl in the right foreground; she is cleaning and diapering a child. In the right foreground a woman gapes at the doctor and his medicine, unaware that her pocket is being picked. In front of her sprawls a child who holds a bread crust to bait and capture a small bird. In the left foreground is a tall, twisted and dead tree; across from it at the corner of the artist’s studio is a living tree lush with foliage.
While Nicolas Tulp (see Rembrandt’s "The Anatomy Lesson of Nicolaes Tulp") enjoyed a reputation as the "Vesalius of the North," this painting is more typical of the prevailing popular depictions of the doctor, not just in the Netherlands but elsewhere in Europe and equally subject to mockery and suspicion. At this time medical care was provided by local physicians, but also by traveling barber-surgeons whose skills and knowledge were dubious.
Christopher Brown. Images of a Golden Past: Dutch Genre Painting of the 17th C (New York: Abbeville Press) 1984.