Human skin, tattooed with eye, French, 1830-1900
This piece of human skin is tattooed with an eye. It 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. The eye tattoo appears to be part of a pair. The other one is A754.
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, in June 1929.