Diagnosis in painting
A student investigates what might be a depiction of Paget’s disease in a work of fine art
Michael Baum is emeritus professor of surgery and visiting professor of medical humanities at University College London, but he has another passion—fine art. Taking a small group of fledgling medical students under his wing, he conducts his “ward rounds” through some of London’s most famous art galleries, identifying disease processes in paintings and introducing them to the art of clinical observation and deduction. The fundamentals are the same as for any other ward round, but the patients and ward are a far cry from those of a busy city hospital.
One patient who was awaiting a definitive diagnosis is the subject of Quentin Massys’s painting A Grotesque Old Woman (fig 1), painted in 1513. This painting stands out from all the other works in the gallery: Massys’s painting is in sharp contrast to the images of youth and beauty that dominated the Renaissance. Despite this, the painting always attracts attention,