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Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia

Print version ISSN 0365-0596On-line version ISSN 1806-4841

An. Bras. Dermatol. vol.84 no.5 Rio de Janeiro Sept./Oct. 2009 



Dermatology in the arts



Elemir Macedo de SouzaI; Andrelou Fralete Ayres VallarelliII

IFull and Assistant Professor, Discipline of Dermatology, Department of Clinical Practice, Faculdade de Ciências Médicas, Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP) – São Paulo (SP), Brazil
IIPh.D. and Master, Focus on Clinical Practice, Faculdade de Ciências Médicas da Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP) – São Paulo (SP), Brazil

Mailing Address




Medicine has been represented in the most diverse artistic expressions, from primitive cultures to present days, with a considerable degree of variety and evolution, according to the geographical areas and the historic heritage in different societies. There has always been concern regarding recording of the human figure, be it in its splendor, be it at morbidity condition. The authors present illnesses with dermatological expression in European paintings.

Keywords: Keratosis, seborrheic; Lentigo; Tinea capitis



In Dermatology, image is an essential resource in academic formation. Dermatologists start their training by recognizing elementary lesions. The incorporation of this semiotic element is an indispensable tool in the definition of the diagnosis of dermatoses throughout the whole life of the professional. The description of a dermatological lesion should translate its spatial position, sense, color, volume and natural relief.

We can compare skin nuances and interpret the possible manifestations of the normal structure and recognize the etiopathogenesis of dermatoses. In fact, the description of dermatological lesion is the expression of pathological art. The same elements used in the analysis of dermatoses are valued in painting to cause in the viewers the most varied emotions.

This study aims at valuing the dermatological semiology that enabled the authors to formulate diagnostic hypotheses for many European paintings made between century XV and XIX.

In the same period in which modern Dermatology flourished in Europe in the beginning of XVI century 1 the artistic movement named Mannerism, which was characterized by the peculiar manner that each artist designed his works, with tendency to exaggeration of details and search for new ways of expression. As of this moment, the artists got interested in other topics rather than religiosity, and they started to depicture the daily life of people in the cities and in the countryside. Some skin imperfections would then be shown regardless of the consent of the model.

The investigation of 26,000 European paintings between centuries XV and XIX revealed the occurrence of approximately 135 examples of dermatological expressions. The authors presented two examples of dermatological manifestations and showed that such forms of artistic expression may serve as a source of investigation of existing dermatoses before their first academic description 2,3.

The authors cited as reference in the preparation of the present study the article by Professor João Ramos e Silva from 195644 and the other one by Professor Aureliano da Fonseca from 19875 that demonstrated the presence of different dermatoses in European paintings.

The observation of elementary lesions in patients became possible owing to the availability of digital material, pertinent literature and images with good graphic resolution.

In the first example, we can see the pigmented lesion on the right frontal region of Infant Maria Josefa, 56 years and sister of Carlos IV – fourth figure from the left to the right, in the painting made by Francisco Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) (Figure 1).6 This dermatological manifestation is suggestive of seborrheic keratosis, but differential diagnosis with lentigo should be made. Goya pictured the family of Carlos IV in the oil painting by 280 X 336cm designed in 1800-1 that is part of the collection of Padro Museum in Madrid. The observation of this dermatological manifestation could be represented as a painting artifact but this pictorial element is present also in a painting produced before (Figure 2) 6.





In the second example, the authors registered alopecia in the vertex of the scalp of a child leaning against the wheel, on the back, in the painting The Wedding, oil painting 267 X 293 cm (Figure 3), also painted by Francisco Goya y Lucientes in 1791-2 that belongs to Padro Museum in Madrid. The circumscribed aspect of the alopecia, whitish staining and smooth surface suggest the diagnosis of alopecia areata, which has to be differentially diagnosed from scalp tinea capitis or non-capitis alopecia as tinea favosa (Figure 4) 6.





In the two examples there was intentional registration of the dermatoses. Seborrheic keratosis or lentigo is observed in a study and in the definite canvas. The scalp alopecia of the child showed that the painter used a live model.



1. Vallarelli AFA, Silva VMCF, Souza EM. Dermatologia comparativa (parte VI). An Bras Dermatol. 1999;74:641-2         [ Links ]

2. Rodrigues JG, Leite R, Costa IMC, Soares R. Acervo raro da Sociedade Brasileira de Dermatologia: considerações sobre sua preservação histórica. An Bras Dermatol. 2009;84:93-5         [ Links ]

3. Dequeker J, Degreef H, Busschots AM, Mallia C. Mycosis fungoides in a painting by Lambert Lombard (1506-1566). Dermatology. 2002;205:78-9         [ Links ]

4. Ramos Silva EJ. [Knuckle pads (pulvillus digiti)]. Ann Dermatol Syphiligr (Paris). 1956;83:22-33         [ Links ]

5. Fonseca A. A pele e a arte pictórica. Jornal do Médico (Portugal). 1987;CXXII(2200):76-8         [ Links ]

6. Museo del [homepage]. Madrid, c2009. [acesso 22 Jul 2009]. Disponível em:        [ Links ]



Mailing Address:
Andrelou Fralete Ayres Vallarelli
Avenida Barão de Itapura, nº 950, sala 44, Botafogo
13020-431 Campinas SP
Tel./ Fax.: 19 3234 2404 / 3201 6558 / 9790 8050



How to cite this article: Souza EM, Vallarelli AFA. Dermatologia nas artes. An Bras Dermatol. 2009;84(5):556-8.

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