Lucas van Leyden's 'Toothdrawer', 1523: Passion play merchant scenes and the religious origins of quack depictions

Katritzky, M. A. (2015). Lucas van Leyden's 'Toothdrawer', 1523: Passion play merchant scenes and the religious origins of quack depictions. In: Mueller, Juergen and Muench, Birgit Ulrike eds. Peiraikos' Erben: Die Genese der Genremalerei bis 1550. Trierer Beitraege zu den historischen Kulturwissenschaften (14). Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, pp. 125–148.



Representations of the Holy Women at the Sepulchre are known in art from at least the fifth century, and on the religious stage from the tenth century onwards. Perhaps encouraged by its female patrons, who were often the highly-educated elite leaders of wealthy religious communities, this tradition’s visual and theatrical representations moved ever closer to providing an emotional female counterpart, at the end of Christ’s life, to the male-dominated visit of the three Kings, or ‘wise men from the east’, whose gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh heralded its beginning. Drawing on the tradition’s theatrical as well as visual developments, this examination of the origins of quack images identifies their point of departure as the religious spice-purchasing scene, whose progression it traces on the religious stage from the tenth century, and in illuminated manuscripts from the eleventh century onwards.

Following their great twelfth-century iconographic flowering in Lombard, Provençal and Catalan narrative religious stone carvings, the theme of spice merchants, apothecaries and quacks reappeared in a secular context in medical manuscript illuminations. From the mid-fifteenth century onwards, they also feature in printed book illustrations and other prints offering an accessible repertoire of iconographic templates for artists. Here too, in the context of its connections with the religious stage, the quack theme carries strong religious and moralistic connotations. Throughout the early modern period, it continued its consolidation into what eventually became a significant category of seventeenth-century secular genre paintings. Here, these advances are traced by way of small quack scenes within larger pictures or compositional cycles, such as Giulio Romano’s ‘Theriac seller’, ‘The Haywain’ by Hieronymus Bosch, or painted versions of ‘Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple’ by followers of Bosch. In this progression, the decisive impetus to independent secular genre compositions was provided by Lucas van Leyden’s moralizing ‘Toothdrawer’ of 1523.

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