Human skin, with tattoos

1860-1900 in France

Human skin, tattooed with female figure on bicycle and nude female figure in child birth(?), French, 1860-1900, purchased from La Valette in 1929

An image of a female figure on a bicycle and a nude female figure possibly in childbirth is tattooed onto human skin. The tattoo 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. It was eventually bought for Henry Wellcome’s medical collection by one of his collecting agents, Captain Johnston-Saint.

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.


Anatomy & Pathology
Object Number:
  • visual and verbal communication
Wellcome Trust

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