Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Very Merry Christmas Indeed: 18th Century Italian Pathological Nativity Scene Crèches!

Towards my sincere wish that each of you has a very merry Christmas today, please accept this virtual gift: two intriguing and lovely pathologically-detailed 18th century Italian nativity scene crèche figures from the collection of the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library, Yale University.

An excerpt from the article on Atlas Obscura:
Holiday Creche Figures With Goiters
...The lovely ladies seen above were made to be part of a classic nativity scene, welcoming the infant Christ into the world. They are shown suffering from what was once a relatively common malady: goiters. These enlarged thyroids caused painful swellings in the throat usually due to iodine deficiency in the diet, and were particularly prevalent in Alpine regions of Europe where the soil was naturally low in iodine.
These two dolls are known as Crèche (or Presepio) figures, and are found in Nativity scenes. The country women, garbed in handmade peasant dress, have unusual features that led to their inclusion in the Yale’s Medical Historical Library. Both have prominent goiters on their necks. Goiters are swelling of the thyroid gland.

Creche figures often depicted “realistic” features, and in the 18th century, peasant and country folk were thought to be a great addition, often in the background of the scene. Figures with goiters attending the birth of Baby Jesus is an entire level of realism never expected in a Nativity scene...

We often think of the beauty associated with the Nativity, but in reality, people in earlier centuries had a variety of ailments that manifested on the outside, and weren’t removed. Skin diseases, tumors, and goiters, which we don’t often see in people with the help of modern medicine, were not unusual.
--Melissa Grafe is the John R. Bumstead Librarian for Medical History at Yale University.  
You can read the whole article--from which this is excerpted--on Atlas Obscura by clicking here. And thanks, Dylan Thuras, for sending this along!

And Merry Christmas, y'all!

Images of creche figures courtesy of the Yale University, used with permission.

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