A 1648 engraving found at the Museum of Medicine in Madrid shows the ‘Plague Doctor’ in full costume. The costume design is credited to the French Royal Physician, Charles de Lorme in the early part of the 17th century. The protective costume was designed to keep the doctor safe, while treating patients who suffered from the Plague. It was also known as the Black Death. The plague was wide spread in densely populated cities across Europe in the middle ages, resulting in millions of deaths.
The key feature of this protective outfit is the characteristic mask with the large beak shaped nose. The beak was filled with various aromatic and medicinal herbs to protect the airwaves of the wearer from infection. The Plague Doctor wore full PPE, in those days made of impregnated leather boots, gloves and a cloak, as well as a hat and is often seen with a short stick that he would use during his examination of the patient.
The photograph above is a modern take on the Plague Doctor traversing Paris at a time of high stress during the 2020 COVID19 pandemic. The photograph is by Stephan Gladieu, a great French photographer, perhaps best known for his colour portrait work.
The profile is unmistakable. The warning very real!
The sight of the Plague Doctor silhouette walking the empty streets to the home of a poor suffering citizen, or to the hospital to treat patients suffering from the bubonic plague, would be incredibly alarming. Very scary. I cannot help but think that this is perhaps a great message even today.
Be careful and stay safe, AND wear your mask whenever you are around other people. It is the right thing to do. The safe thing to do. It is the least you can do to protect and respect those around you.