Monstrous Engravings: Plague Doctor!

Plague Doctor.jpg

This is drawn from  a copper engraving of Doctor Schnabel [i.e Dr. Beak], a plague doctor in seventeenth-century Rome, circa 1656.

Plague doctors served as public servants during the time of the Black Death of Europe in the fourteenth century. Their principal task, besides taking care of plague victims, was to record in public records the deaths due to the plague. Some of these “doctors” wore a special costume, although graphic sources show that plague doctors wore a variety of garments(and often had no medical training). The garments were invented by Charles de L’Orme in 1619; they were first used in Paris, but later spread to be used throughout Europe. The protective suit consisted of a heavy fabric overcoat that was waxed, a mask with glass eye openings and a cone nose shaped like a beak to hold scented substances. Some of the scented materials were ambergris, lemon balm,mint leaves, camphor, cloves,laudanum, myrrh, rose petals, storax. This was thought to protect the doctor from miasmatic bad air. There was also a bit of straw in the beak and this acted as a filter for the “bad air” that was thought to transmit the disease. Plague doctors also carried a  wooden cane pointer that was used to point to and examine the patient without having to touch them.

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