Artatomical: Rembrandt's Portrait of de Lairesse

Portrait of Gerard de Lairesse by Rembrandt, 1960s

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.

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.