As mentioned in our podcast episode "Syphilis Through the Ages," the pox plagued Europeans for centuries with profound cultural ramifications. Yet some of the afflicted took a level of hedonistic pride in their illness, or at least faced it with a quiet dignity. Of the later, artist and theorist Gerard de Lairesse (1641-1711) stands as a prime example.
De Lairesse was a well known painter in his life and here his contemporary Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) captures him in unapologetic but dignified detail. Only 25 at the time, De Lairesse bore the obvious disfigurement of congenital syphilis, most notably in his sunken saddle nose. The illness would later render him blind, forcing him to abandon the brush entirely in favor of a career in art theory.
The painting is currently collected at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.