Portrait of the week - The doctor's visit
The doctor's visit, painted by Jan Steen, circa 1660.
This portrait of a sick woman, accompanied by a doctor and a maid, is a perfect example of painting in the Netherlands of the 17th century - paintings primarily aimed at the up-and-coming bourgeoisie and showing interiors (most commonly, but sometimes exteriors) with ordinary scenes and situations.
Showing ill women were not thought of as an unsuitable motif, but appears several times by different artists, for example by Caspar Netscher, and Jan Steen also painted 'The love-sick woman' with an almost identical setting.
The woman is seen in an upper-class setting, with large paintings on the walls and thick fabrics on the furniture. In the corner a four-poster-bed is seen. The woman is dressed in fur-trimmed jacket and a dress made of grey silk. This was not what a proper woman would wear in at a more formal occasion, this was a dress made for home, and suitable to wear when ill. The doctor is checking her pulse, and the maid is holding a urine-sample in a glass-bottle. The medical art of the 17th century was not the most advanced, that must be admitted, but they had by now come to the conclusion that checking the heart-beat and the urine was vital for understanding a patients well-being. Just as a doctor would nowadays. The difference might be more in the remedies that were prescribed, like bloodletting and sweatings (to get the body in balance).
The maid is shown as helping out the doctor, holding things for him and talking to him. That she is merely a servant-woman and not, for example, the sick woman's mother, is clearly shown by the difference of clothing, this woman's dress is much simpler and she even has an apron, though in a bright, blue colour.