Human skin, with tattoos, reputedly French, 1850-1920

1850-1920 in France

Human skin, tattooed with star, female head and inscription, probably French, 1850-1920

Tattooed onto human skin is an image of a star, a female head and the inscription, ‘D’amour’ - meaning ‘my love’. It is unknown whom the tattoos represent, but it was, and remains, common to illustrate loved ones upon the skin. 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. 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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