Jan Sanders van Hemessen: The surgeon or The Extraction of the Stone of Madness (1550-1555)

(Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain)

A painting by the Flemish artist Jan Sanders van Hemessen (1500 – 1566). Depicted on this piece is a so-called 'stone cutter', a fictional type of surgeon from a Medieval legend. According to the story a man named 'Lubbert Das' complained that he was doing stupid things. A quack said that the source of his foolishness was a stone (the stone of madness) inside his head. If the stone was removed, he would no longer be a fool. The entire story was very popular in the Middle ages in art in which it is used a symbol of foolishness/ absurdity/ gullibility. The place of the operation on this painting is a city near the harbour. An 
unfortunate patient with tears in his eyes  is strapped to a chair while an old woman is holding his head. The surgeon with a sarcastic smile is removing the stone with a razor. A young woman in the back is preparing an ointment, perhaps to be used after the operation. The man on the right is probably the next patient. He is stretching his arms in anticipation and desperation. The people on this painting are dressed in for this period old fashioned clothing. Artists used this to indicate that these persons are ridiculous & fools. The 'surgeon' here is an impostor whose only interest is money and who is taking advantage of the gullibility of people

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