Human skin with tattoo, France, 1866

Made:
1866 in France
maker:
Unknown

Human skin, tattooed with inscription and crossed spade and pickaxe, French, dated 1866

Tattooed onto human skin is the symbol of a crossed spade and pickaxe. It bears the inscription ‘H REYNAUT 1866’. This may have been the name of a loved one or perhaps the owner of the tattoo. The symbolism of the crossed spade and pickaxe was later used in association with communism, but also appears on crests and army uniforms as a mark of distinction. The skin was once owned by Parisian surgeon Dr Villette. He worked in military hospitals and collected and preserved hundreds of samples from the bodies of dead French soldiers.

In the late 1800s, tattoos were often seen as markers of criminal tendencies or ‘primitiveness’. Medical men tried to interpret common images and symbols. Tattoos were also a tool for identification, a practice that continues today. This tattoo is one of a large group bought for Henry Wellcome’s medical collection by one of his agents, Captain Johnston-Saint.

Details

Category:
Anatomy & Pathology
Object Number:
A696
type:
tattoo
taxonomy:
  • visual and verbal communication
credit:
Wellcome Trust

Cite this page

Rights

We encourage the use and reuse of our collection data.


Data in the title, made, maker and details fields are released under Creative Commons Zero


Descriptions and all other text content are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence

Using our data

Download

Download catalogue entry as json

Download manifest IIIF

Our records are constantly being enhanced and improved, but please note that we cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information shown on this website.