History of Medicine


An Open Access Journal

Charles Bell as an illustrator of military trauma (1809 and 1815)

Nikolay N. Krylov,
Yana G. Grigoryan,
Aftandil V. Alekberzade
FSAEI HE I.M. Sechenov First MSMU MOH Russia (Sechenov University)
8 Trubetskaya St., building 2, Moscow 119991, Russia

The article analyses paintings of wounded patients created by Scottish anatomist, neurologist, practicing surgeon and artist Charles Bell – graphic sketches in travel sketchbooks, paintings (1809) and watercolours (1815). His works provide a representation of the structure of wounds suffered during battle. The article compares 15 paintings from “The Wounded following the Battle of Corunna” series, (on display in the hall of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh) and 17 watercolours from the collection of the Wellcome Library from the [Royal] Army Medical Services Museum. The authors stress that both the sketches and the paintings derived from sketches from Bell’s early work were rudimentary and unsophisticated compared to later watercolours of the wounded during the Battle of Waterloo. Most of the paintings from 1815 are dated and accompanied by comments, detailing not only the circumstances and nature of the wounds, but the name (or surname) of the patient, place of treatment, arm of service, regiment number, as well as a brief excerpt of the medical record, as well as the fate of many of the patients who had undergone surgical treatment. These works provide an insight into not only Bell’s work as a surgeon, but how his artistic style developed as well. The visual artifacts and details on the paintings are laconic, yet expressive. The eyes of the wounded soldiers convey an indescribable mixture of the joy of surviving battle, the fear of the irretrievability of physical loss incurred, incessant pain of the wound, its chilling inevitability and submission before its power, moral exhaustion, the after-effects of hypovolemic shock, agony from the impending or completed treatment, anxiety and fear of death. Familiarisation with Bell’s paintings when training students of general surgery and the history of medicine acquires didactic significance, while the raising of awareness and provision of accessibility for the general public play a crucial role in understanding the true realities of war and sympathy for its victims.

Keywords: history of medicine, military trauma, military surgery, gunshot wound, Charles Bell, images of the wounded, sketches of wounds


From 2021

The Journal is Published Twice a Year.

Founders of the journal

I.M. Sechenov

For Authors