Leprosy In Art: Disease And Beauty

On March 19, 2016 by Tim Newman

Leprosy in Art - Anonymous - Je suy le poure Diable - 1500-1599

Leprosy is an infection caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae. Although there was, and is, an incredible amount of stigma attached to the disease, it is not particularly contagious.

In fact, 95% of people are naturally immune, and, nowadays, it is entirely curable.

The disease has been part of the human experience for thousands of years, getting a liberal smattering of mentions in the Bible, Koran, and Torah.

Because of the highly visible lesions – lumps and bumps – caused by leprosy, those who are affected have always been pushed to the margins of society.

Today, India houses more than half of the new cases of leprosy, and they still treat these  people in the same way a medieval European with leprosy might have been treated.

Leprous individuals in India, China, and Africa can find themselves unable to marry, shunned by their families and communities, and left in poverty in leper colonies.

Contrary to popular belief, leprosy doesn’t directly cause body parts to drop off. Leprosy causes nerve damage, which leaves large sections of skin with no sensation; these numb areas are more liable to repeated injury. And because the body is fighting the Mycobacterium leprae infection, the immune system is otherwise engaged, therefore, any secondary infections are more likely to take hold and run rampant.

These secondary infections and repeated injuries slowly degrade the extremities.

Leprosy in art - 12 year old boy 1800s

Leprosy also effects the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract, including the inside of the nose. Because of this, the nose can slowly degrade from the inside and collapse.

The disease can lie, slowly developing in a human host for up to 20 years before symptoms are displayed, this is perhaps one of the reasons that its mode of transmission was not recognised for so long. The source was not easy to pin down.

Because leprosy has always instilled fear into the masses, it has also figured heavily in art.

Below is a selection of some of the strange and uncomfortable images created to educate, frighten, and intrigue audiences throughout the ages:

Leprosy in Art - 1th Century Fresco Leprosy in art - 13 year old girl 1800s Leprosy in art - 20 year old woman with severe leprosy 1800s Leprosy in art - 26 year old woman with leprous lesions affecting her eye, face and jaw Leprosy in Art - 28 year old woman with leprosy 1800s Leprosy in art - 1800s Leprosy in art - Cleve Ecce Homo Leprosy in Art - Devil's mask depicting Leprosy, 14th century Leprosy in Art - Elderly Couple Leprosy in Art - Franciscan mystic and miracle worker, Saint Elzear of Sabran (1285-1323) Leprosy in Art - Hand and Tongue 1800s Leprosy in Art - Hand Leprosy in Art - Hans Holbein Leprosy in Art - Indian Poster Leprosy in Art - Indian Public Information Poster Leprosy in Art - Japan Leprosy in Art - Leper in Costume Leprosy in art - Leper with clapper 15th Century Leprosy in Art - Leper's Face Leprosy in Art - Lepers' retreat in cast iron; 15th century Leprosy in Art - Leprosy is Curable - India Leprosy in art - man aged 38 Leprosy in Art - man aged 40 1800s Leprosy in Art - Medieval leper bell Leprosy in Art - Parz castle, Austria - Frescos c1580 Leprosy in Art - R Cooper Leprosy in Art - Sculptire






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