This volume is the first in-depth analysis of how infirm bodies were represented in Italy from c. 1400 to 1650. Through original contributions and methodologies, it addresses the fundamental yet undiscussed relationship between images and representations in medical, religious, and literary texts.

Looking beyond the modern category of ‘disease’ and viewing infirmity in Galenic humoral terms, each chapter explores which infirmities were depicted in visual culture, in what context, why, and when. By exploring the works of artists such as Caravaggio, Leonardo, and Michelangelo, this study considers the idealized body altered by diseases, including leprosy, plague, goitre, and cancer. In doing so, the relationship between medical treatment and the depiction of infirmities through miracle cures is also revealed. The broad chronological approach demonstrates how and why such representations change, both over time and across different forms of media. Collectively, the chapters explain how the development of knowledge of the workings and structure of the body was reflected in changed ideas and representations of the metaphorical, allegorical, and symbolic meanings of infirmity and disease.

The interdisciplinary approach makes this study the perfect resource for both students and specialists of the history of art, medicine and religion, and social and intellectual history across Renaissance Europe.

part I|67 pages

Approaches to the representation of infirmity

part II|48 pages

Institutions and visualizing illness

chapter 4|22 pages

On Display

Poverty as infirmity and its visual representation at the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala in Siena

chapter 5|24 pages

The Friar as Medico

Picturing leprosy, institutional care, and Franciscan virtues in La Franceschina

part III|71 pages

Disease and treatment

chapter 6|22 pages

The Drama of Infirmity

Cupping in sixteenth-century Italy

chapter 7|26 pages

Suffering through it

Visual and textual representations of bodies in surgery in the wake of Lepanto (1571)

part IV|59 pages

Saints and miraculous healing

chapter 9|22 pages

Infirmity in Votive Culture

A case study from the sanctuary of the Madonna dell’Arco, Naples

chapter 10|20 pages

Infirmity and the Miraculous in the Early Seventeenth Century

The San Carlo cycle of paintings in the Duomo of Milan

chapter 11|15 pages


Did Mona Lisa suffer from hypothyroidism? Visual representations of sickness and the vagaries of retrospective diagnosis