The clothing worn by plague doctors was intended to protect them from airborne diseases. The costume, used in France in the 17th century, consisted of an ankle length overcoat and a bird-like beak mask, often filled with sweet or strong smelling substances (commonly lavender), along with gloves, boots, a wide-brimmed hat, and an outer over-clothing garment.
Plague doctor outfit from Germany (17th century).
The mask had glass openings in the eyes and a curved beak shaped like that of a bird with straps that held the beak in front of the doctor's nose. The mask had two small nose holes and was a type of respirator which contained aromatic items. The beak could hold dried flowers (including roses and carnations), herbs (including mint), spices, camphor, or a vinegar sponge. The purpose of the mask was to keep away bad smells, which were thought to be the principal cause of the disease in the miasma theory of infection, before it was disproved by germ theory. Doctors believed the herbs would counter the "evil" smells of the plague and prevent them from becoming infected.
The beak doctor costume worn by plague doctors had a wide-brimmed leather hat to indicate their profession. They used wooden canes in order to point out areas needing attention and to examine patients without touching them. The canes were also used to keep people away, to remove clothing from plague victims without having to touch them, and to take a patient's pulse.
Medical historians have attributed the invention of the "beak doctor" costume to Charles de Lorme, who adopted in 1619 the idea of a full head-to-toe protective garment, modeled after a soldier's armor. This consisted of a bird-like mask with spectacles, and a long leather (Moroccan or Levantine) or waxed-canvas gown which went from the neck to the ankle. The over-clothing garment, as well as leggings, gloves, boots, and a hat, were made of waxed leather. The garment was impregnated with similar fragrant items as the beak mask.
- Pommerville (Body Systems), p. 15
- Ellis, p.202
- Byrne (Encyclopedia), p. 505
- Sandler, p. 42
- Ulrich's Periodicals Directory, ulrichsweb.com or email magazine at geographical.co.uk, Content Type : Academic / Scholarly</ref>
Lorme wrote that the mask had a "nose half a foot long, shaped like a beak, filled with perfume with only two holes, one on each side near the nostrils, but that can suffice to breathe and to carry along with the air one breathes the impression of the drugs enclosed further along in the beak".
This popular 17th-century poem describes the plague doctor's costume.
As may be seen on picture here,
In Rome the doctors do appear,
When to their patients they are called,
In places by the plague appalled,
Their hats and cloaks, of fashion new,
Are made of oilcloth, dark of hue,
Their caps with glasses are designed,
Their bills with antidotes all lined,
That foulsome air may do no harm,
Nor cause the doctor man alarm,
The staff in hand must serve to show
Their noble trade where'er they go.
The Genevese physician Jean-Jacques Manget, in his 1721 work Treatise on the Plague written just after the Great Plague of Marseille, describes the costume worn by plague doctors at Nijmegen in 1636-1637. The costume forms the frontispiece of Manget's 1721 work. The plague doctors of Nijmegen also wore beaked masks. Their robes, leggings, hats, and gloves were made of morocco leather.
This costume was also worn by plague doctors during the Plague of 1656, which killed 145,000 people in Rome and 300,000 in Naples. The costume terrified people because it was a sign of imminent death. Plague doctors wore these protective costumes in accordance with their agreements when they attended their plague patients.
A beaked Venetian carnival
mask with the inscription Medico della Peste
("Plague doctor") beneath the right eye
The costume is also associated with a commedia dell'arte character called Il Medico della Peste (the Plague Doctor), who wears a distinctive plague doctor's mask. The Venetian mask was normally white, consisting of a hollow beak and round eye-holes covered with clear glass, and is one of the distinctive masks worn during the Carnival of Venice.
- ^ Füssli’s image is reproduced and discussed in Robert Fletcher, A tragedy of the Great Plague of Milan in 1630 (Baltimore: The Lord Baltimore Press, 1898), p. 16–17.
- ^ a b c d
- Pommerville (Body Systems), p. 15
- Bauer, p. 145
- Abrams, p. 257
- Byfield, p. 26
- Glaser, pp. 33-34
- ^ a b c Ellis, p. 202
- Time-Life Books, pp. 140, 158
- Dolan, p. 139
- Ellis, p. 202
- Martin, p. 121
- Sherman, p. 162
- Turner, p. 180
- Mentzel, p. 86
- Glaser, p. 36
- Hall, p. 67
- Infectious Diseases Society of America, Volume 11, p. 819
- Grolier, p. 700
- ^ O'Donnell, p. 135
- ^ Stuart, p. 15
- ^ Center for Advanced Study in Theatre Arts, p. 83
- ^ Doktor Schnabel von Rom, engraving by Paul Fürst (after J Columbina), Rome 1656.
- ^ American Medical Association - JAMA.: The Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume 34, p. 639
- ^ Pommerville, p. 9
- ^ a b Boeckl, p. 15
- ^ a b Carmichael, p. 57
- ^ a b Vidal, Pierre; Tibayrenc, Myrtille; Gonzalez, Jean-Paul (2007). "Chapter 40: Infectious disease and arts". In Tibayrenc, Michel. Encyclopedia of Infectious Diseases: Modern Methodologies. John Wiley & Sons. p. 680. ISBN 9780470114193.
- ^ Carmichael, A.G. (2009), "Plague, Historical", in Schaechter, Moselio, Encyclopedia of Microbiology (3rd ed.), Elsevier, pp. 58–72, doi:10.1016/B978-012373944-5.00311-4
- ^ Iqbal Akhtar Khan (May 2004). "Plague: the dreadful visitation occupying the human mind for centuries". Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. 98 (5): 270–277. doi:10.1016/S0035-9203(03)00059-2. PMID 15109549.
Charles Delorme (1584—1678), personal physician to King Louis XIII, was credited with introducing special protective clothing for plague doctors during the epidemic in Marseilles. It consisted of a beak-like mask supplied with aromatic substance, presumed to act as filter against the odour emanating from the patients, and a loose gown covering the normal clothing. On occasions, a drifting fragrance such as camphor was used.
- Pommerville (Body Systems), p. 15
- Hirts, p. 66
- Reynolds, p. 23
- ^ Time-Life Books, p. 158 Beak Doctor: during the Black Plague, a medical man who wore a bird mask to protect himself against infection. Black plague definition: In 14th-century Europe, the victims of the "black plague" had bleeding below the skin (subcutaneous hemorrhage) which made darkened ("blackened") their bodies. Black plague can lead to "black death" characterized by gangrene of the fingers, toes, and nose. Black plague is caused by a bacterium (Yersinia pestis) which is transmitted to humans from infected rats by the oriental rat flea.. medterm.com
- ^ THE PLAGUE DOCTOR
- ^ G. L. Townsend, "The Plague Doctor", J Hist Med Allied Sci, 20 (1965), 276. (The image is on p. 277).
- Nohl, pp. 94, 95
- Sandler, p. 42
- Goodnow, p. 132
- Walker, p. 96
- ^ Manget, p. 3
- ^ Timbs, p. 360
- ^ Killinger, p. 95
- ^ Carnevale
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