Human skin with various tattoos

1830-1900 in France

Creative Commons LicenseThis image is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 Licence

Buy this image as a print 

License this image for commercial use at Science and Society Picture Library

Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Human skin from whole chest of man, tattooed with various motifs, French, 1830-1900, purchased from La Valette in 1929

Tattooed with a figure of a man with a large dagger surrounded by female angels with trumpets, this piece of human skin was purchased by one of Henry Wellcome’s collecting agents. The agent was Captain Johnston-Saint, who bought it in June 1929 from Dr Villette, a Parisian surgeon. Villette worked in military hospitals and collected and preserved hundreds of samples from the autopsies of 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 used as a tool for identification, a practice that continues today.


Anatomy & Pathology
Object Number:
overall (in frame): 472 mm x 472 mm x 42 mm, 3.32 kg
  • visual and verbal communication
Wellcome Trust
Loan: Wellcome Trust

Cite this page


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 catalogue entry as json

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