Behold the Medieval Wound Man: The Poor Soul Who Illustrated the Injuries a Person Might Receive Through War, Accident or Disease

Do you swoon at the sight of blood?

Suf­fer paper cuts as major trau­ma?

Cov­er your eyes when the knife comes out in the hor­ror movie?

If so, and also if not, fall to your knees and give thanks that you’re not the Wound Man, above.

A sta­ple of medieval med­ical his­to­ry, he’s a gris­ly com­pendi­um of the injuries and exter­nal afflic­tions that might befall a mor­tal of the peri­od- insect and ani­mal bites, spilled entrails, abscess­es, boils, infec­tions, plague-swollen glands, pierc­ings and cuts, both acci­den­tal and delib­er­ate­ly inflict­ed.

Any one of these trou­bles should be enough to fell him, yet he remains upright, dis­play­ing every last one of them simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, his expres­sion sto­ic.

He’s hard to look at, but as art his­to­ri­an Jack Hart­nell , author of Medieval Bod­ies: Life, Death and Art in the Mid­dle Ages writes in British Art Stud­ies:

The Wound Man was not a fig­ure designed to inspire fear or to men­ace. On the con­trary, he rep­re­sent­ed some­thing more hope­ful: an imag­i­na­tive and arrest­ing her­ald of the pow­er­ful knowl­edge that could be chan­nelled and dis­pensed through the prac­tice of medieval med­i­cine.

A valu­able edu­ca­tion­al resource for sur­geons for some three cen­turies, he began crop­ping up in south­ern Ger­many in the ear­ly 1400s. In an essay for the Pub­lic Domain Review, Hart­nell notes how these ear­ly spec­i­mens served “as a human table of con­tents”, direct­ing inter­est­ed par­ties to the spe­cif­ic pas­sages in the var­i­ous med­ical texts where infor­ma­tion on exist­ing treat­ments could be found.

The pro­to­col for injuries to the intestines or stom­ach called for stitch­ing the wound up with a fine thread and sprin­kling it with an anti­he­m­or­rhag­ic pow­der made from wine, hematite, nut­meg, white frank­in­cense, gum ara­bic, bright red sap from the Dra­cae­na cinnabari tree and a restora­tive quan­ti­ty of mum­my.

The Wound Man evolved along with med­ical knowl­edge, weapons of war­fare and art world trends.

The wood­cut Wound Man in Hans von Gersdorff’s 1517 land­mark Field­book of Surgery intro­duces can­non­balls to the ghast­ly mix.

And the engraver Robert White’s Wound Man in British sur­geon John Browne’s 1678 Com­pleat Dis­course of Wounds los­es the loin­cloth and grows his hair, mor­ph­ing into a neo­clas­si­cal beau­ty in the Saint Sebas­t­ian mold.

Sur­gi­cal knowl­edge even­tu­al­ly out­paced the Wound Man’s use­ful­ness, but pop­u­lar cul­ture is far from ready for him to lay down and die, as evi­denced by recent cameos in episodes of Han­ni­bal and the British com­e­dy quiz show, QI.

Delve into the his­to­ry of the Wound Man in Jack Hart­nel­l’s British Art Stud­ies arti­cle “Word­ing the Wound Man.”

via Pub­lic Domain Review

Relat­ed Con­tent

1,000-Year-Old Illus­trat­ed Guide to the Med­i­c­i­nal Use of Plants Now Dig­i­tized & Put Online

Dis­cov­er the Per­sian 11th Cen­tu­ry Canon of Med­i­cine, “The Most Famous Med­ical Text­book Ever Writ­ten”

How Illu­mi­nat­ed Medieval Man­u­scripts Were Made: A Step-by-Step Look at this Beau­ti­ful, Cen­turies-Old Craft

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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