L0021970 An operator extracting a tooth. Oil painting by an unidentif
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
An operator extracting a tooth. Oil painting by an unidentified painter, 16–, after Theodor Rombouts.
Paintings and other records from the 16th to the early 20th centuries capture performers in action. In the 17th century, travelling actors worked in troupes as a support act to specialist tooth-drawers who were themselves part of the act. These operators often had craft skills, experience, and expensive specialist instruments, like those shown on the table in this painting. Because they worked outside the guild system of locally established surgeons, the latter often tried to protect their own business by dubbing the interlopers as charlatans or quacks and taking them to court. However, the travelling dentists performed a useful service, were often brilliant entertainers, and were therefore a very popular and welcome presence at fairs and markets.
In this painting, the leader of the troupe, near the centre, is a roving dental specialist, performing or pretending to perform a tooth extraction. He is surrounded by his companions who pretend to be casual bystanders. The composition was the invention of the short-lived Flemish painter Theodor Rombouts (1597-1637). He had worked in Italy where he learnt the technique (called Caravaggesque) of composing horizontal groupings of half-length figures in action, as here. Such paintings usually illustrate some illusion or deception: here the man in the right foreground is being gulled by all the other people, in an attempt to get him to volunteer to have a bad tooth extracted, or to buy a medicine to ease the pain.
1600-1699 By: Theodoor RomboutsPublished: [16–]
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Fear is instilled in us as children that if you eat too much candies and chocolate your teeth will turn rotten and fall out or the dentist will have to pull them out, and when you have a tooth ache or a loose tooth it is a common practice to pull those teeth out more quickly by tying one end of a string around your tooth and the other to a doorknob and then slamming the door shut to yank the tooth out. Either way of having your teeth removed are unpleasant. The image here shows an “operator” extracting the tooth of a young man, the reason probably being a toothache or rotten tooth as aforementioned. The procedure is being made a spectacle for 8 other men who are probably trying to learn the technique. This image stood out to me mainly because of the comical aspect, the operate has a smirk on his face while the man sitting on the right has a distinguishably perplexed look on his face as he is trying to figure out what is really happening. The patient himself looks far from comfortable and is looking directly up at the operator as if he wants him to stop. He is even trying to wave his hand in discomfort but the operator is pinning his arm down to the table. Compared to the images we have looked at in class this one is certainly on the brighter side; because having a tooth pulled is something most people have experienced it’s more relatable than an image of the plague of the coming of Jesus Christ.