Human skin, tattooed with badge of armour and flags, probably French, 1850-1920
Tattooed onto human skin is a badge of armour surrounded by two French flags. It has distorted over time, making the badge indistinct. This is possibly due to the preservation process after the skin was removed at post-mortem. 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.
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. This tattoo is one of a large group bought for Henry Wellcome’s medical collection by one of his agents, Captain Johnston-Saint.