As the title explains, the painting depicts Rene Laennec, French physician and inventor of the stethoscope, in a hospital room, his ear pressed to the chest of a male patient, who is sitting up in his bed. In his left hand he holds an early model of the stethoscope. Three other figures appear to the back and right: one is likely another physician, another is a sister/nurse.


The stethoscope was one of the first technological innovations in medicine and its advent was accompanied by some of the same concerns that are raised about 20th century technologies. Physicians in Laennec's day were concerned about two aspects of using a stethoscope: the stethoscope, which allowed for "mediated auscultation," removed the patient from direct physical contact with his/her physician, and the stethoscope allowed for finer and more accurate diagnoses, which could rob patients of hope for recovery.

The invention of the stethoscope also intensified the ongoing battle between physicians and surgeon. Physicians were the learned, professional half of the medical profession; surgeons were considered by physicians to be mere technicians. Some physicians feared that using instruments such as a stethoscope sullied their higher status, the art of their profession.

Primary Source

National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, Maryland