Plague doctor, France, 18th century

Plague doctor, France, 18th century

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Credit: SHEILA TERRY/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: Plague doctor. Artwork of the clothing used by doctors during plague outbreaks. This design, though in use much earlier, is from The Great Plague of Marseilles, France, in 1720. The plague (or Black Death) affected Europe from the 1340s to the 1700s. It is thought to have been bubonic plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, and spread by fleas on rats. This outbreak, one of the largest in Europe in the early 18th century, killed over 100,000 people. The costume's beaked bronze mask contained aromatic herbs. This reduced the smell for the doctor and the limited airflow through holes in the beak reduced exposure to "bad air". Gloves and a heavily oiled undergarment and cloak were also designed to reduce exposure. 19th century artwork by Daumier, published in Devils, Drugs and Doctors (London, 1929).

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