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Godfried Schalcken - The medical examination

by Alexandra Tuschka

You really have to take a closer look! And indeed - there is a little person swimming in the young woman's urine. Chaste she was not and here is the living proof. The woman starts to cry - she can't use a child. Probably she is not even married. The father already gets red cheeks and bangs on the table. Only the little boy, possibly her brother, seems to be having fun and shows us the "fig". The thumb stuck between the index and middle finger was an obscene gesture at the time, representing the sexual act. The chair back next to it inevitably reminds us of a penis and also the enema syringe (used for enemas) makes it clear even to the last viewer what kind of picture theme we find here. In addition, the unserious doctor points with his left hand to an open basket: "That's what you get now" he seems to express.

Of all the diagnostic methods used in the 16th century, the urine examination was the most widespread. Unfortunately, it also opened the door to quacks, because many things could be claimed by looking at the urine. The subject of the picture is also called "piskijker" and makes it clear that a certain amusement spread among the public about this method. Incidentally, it was nothing unusual when the doctor also examined the urine of his patients for taste.

This doctor doesn't seem to be entirely serious either. His slightly open mouth reveals some missing teeth; his hat has already slipped off his reticule and there is also a tear in his sleeve. Apparently, he is also nearsighted. With a fixed gaze, he brings the urine jar so close to his face that he can clearly see the little man inside. A certain schadenfreude seems to spread through him. In the background we see some utensils. Although the title is also known as "the doctor's visit", and thus it is assumed that the doctor is visiting his patient here, we could well be in the doctor's office.

But who hangs something like that in their living room? Urine show or quack paintings are found between the 16th-18th centuries in large numbers on the image carriers - here almost exclusively in the Netherlands. There are many reasons for this phenomenon. The "golden age" of the Netherlands was dawning. Through trade, a whole new class of people emerged - merchants and traders who strove for a new identity. They strengthened this, among other things, by distinguishing themselves from the lower classes. Thus hundreds of paintings about the peasant and middle class milieu were created, mocking their simplicity and also stupidity. The belief that one could tell whether a lady had lived chastely or not simply by looking at her urine may have put a smile on the face of enlightened contemporaries. Moreover, in the Baroque era, the depiction of strong effects and emotions was en vouge, which could be further enhanced in depictions of more painful treatments.

Godfried Schalcken - The medical examination

Oil on canvas, 1680, 35 x 28,5 cm, Mauritshuis in The Hague


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