Neurology in cartoons: Caricatures of neurological diseases and neurologists since the 15th century

Lorenzo Lorusso
Neurology Department, "M. Mellini" Hospital, Chiari, Italy


During the Renaissance, different artists began to draw medical illustrations from various viewpoints. In Italy, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was the first to study cerebrospinal nerves, as well as the first to dissect the brain and describe body muscles and their functions. Like artists of his day, da Vinci was determined to depict all aspects of human life. He followed condemned criminals to the gallows to draw their fear-distorted faces. He sought to portray the emotional as well as the physical qualities of man. These were the first caricatures in medicine.

Later, other European artists described satirical aspects of medical activities. In Germany, the illustrator Hans Weiditz (1520-1536) became famous for drawing twenty-four portraits of ancient, medieval physicians. He was a discerning caricaturist of sixteenth-century medical practice.

In seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, many artists were caricaturists: Williams Hogarth (1697-1764) satirized the degradation of English society of his time, including medical malpractice. Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) furnished a touch of broad humour, characteristic of the artist’s lusty and rollicking style. James Gillray (1757-1815) was a famous political caricaturist but brought the solace of laughter to suffering.

In Spain, Francisco Goya (1746-1828) made satirical reference to Neurology in his magnificent series of etchings entitled “Caprices”.

In France, Honoré Daumier (1808-1879) purged quackery with humour. He attacked fakers, frauds and faddists while upholding the good physician.

Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) was the foremost neurologist of his time, making La Salpêtrière in Paris the centre of neuropsychiatric research. His clinical activity was the object of irony by French newspapers, especially his cure of hysteria by hypnosis.

Pungent caricatures on the personality and political activity of Camillo Golgi (1843-1926) were popular in Italy.

Cartoons were and are the popular portrait of developments in neurology when scientific language is to difficult to disseminate.


Session X -- Poster Session 2
Tuesday, 29 June 2004, 8:45 - 9:25 am

Ninth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Montreal, Quebec, Canada