In the National Gallery, you can see Bronzino's An Allegory with Venus and Cupid, which is also thought to have a lurking figure suffering from syphilis (on the left of the picture), as a warning of the dangers of illicit love.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Picasso, the prostitutes and the medical student
Medical Humanities students at Imperial will know that I am very fond of showing the 'Head of the Medical Student', a preparatory sketch for one of Picasso's most famous works, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (shown above). I've just heard a snippet on Radio 4's 'Pick of the Week' that suggests a possible explanation for the rather curious conjunction of subjects that informed the work. A medical historian has suggested that the painting might be warning of the dangers of syphilis, particularly as three of the women have mask-like faces -- possibly showing ravages of the disease, especially the deformed nose of the figure on the bottom right. Medical students at the time (early 1900s) would have toured wards of syphilitic patients. If Picasso based his paintings on real subjects, it could explain the association with the student. The medical student didn't retain his identity in the final composition -- he became the 'curtain raiser' on the right-hand side of the painting.