Human skin with various tattoos.

1850-1920 in France

Human skin tattooed with hand holding dagger, bunch of roses and table laid with cloth, wine and plate, French, 1850-1920, purchased from La Valette in 1929

A table set with a knife, fork, wine, a bunch of roses and a hand grasping a dagger are tattooed on to human skin. The tattooed skin was purchased by one of Henry Wellcome’s collecting agents, Captain Johnston-Saint, 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): 600 mm x 212 mm x 40 mm, 1.96 kg
  • visual and verbal communication
Wellcome Trust

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