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Who Is Dürer’s “Syphilitic Man”?
Abstract

Abstract:

Among Albrecht Dürer’s first known woodcuts is one showing a syphilitic man. The Nuremberg artist’s image is the earliest known depiction of an individual suffering from this illness. Syphilis was probably brought by Conquistadores from the New World to Naples in the later 1490s and was then transmitted throughout Western Europe by Northern mercenaries (Landsknechten) returning from Italy to their native Germany and Switzerland. The attire worn by Dürer’s Syphilitic Man is exactly that of the Landsknecht. This makes the image important not only as a very early work by the artist and the earliest image of a syphilitic, but also as a depiction of the agent of the disease. The young Dürer had ample opportunity to study such mercenaries during his journeyman years in present-day Switzerland and Strasbourg, since most of them came from precisely the same impoverished territories.