Quack Doctor, 18th Century

Quack Doctor, 18th Century

Dutch artist, pen, dark brown ink, brown wash, and red chalk, Accession Number 56.289, Art Institute, Detroit.

The sketch depicts a crowd gathered around a quack doctor as he promotes his wares.

My, how things have changed. (A bit anyway.) These days the quack doctor can sell quack covid cures like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine over the internet.

Scenes of quack doctors (“kwakzolvers” in Dutch) represented folly and were a common topic in Dutch genre painting, by artists such as Jan Steen, Jan Victors, and Jan Miense Molenaer. Genre scenes of kwaksolvers might depict them performing surgery to the legs, feet, or head (removing the “stone of folly”), extracting teeth, and offering patent medicines.

The painting’s symbolism confirms the futility of the quack’s offerings. The people are portrayed as gullible, except for those who mirror the quack’s deceit as the boy behind him, ready to pick the pockets of some of the unfortunate patients to be treated.

The painting’s details would be familiar to its audience from emblem books or proverbs. The quack’s oversized diploma would be seen as fake. The scene takes place during a fair, when laws and guild regulations were loosened, and outside merchants had the freedom to sell their wares.


When I hear “quack medicine” I tend to think of the supplement industry.


Given that a 2013 study (I might be able to find it) found that 68% of herbal supplements contained ingredients that weren’t listed on the label (yes, that is legal), and that 35% of them contained none of the listed ingredients; that’s probably accurate.


Also the homeopathic industry

What defines a quack? Not particularly the efffectiveness of treatment, I would venture, and well meaning treatments have be proposed by well meaning physicians that were ineffective or even detrimental through the years. My personal thought that it is the promotion for profit of treatments that the seller or user of which knows are fake. Some of the followers may have genuine faith in the treatment, but no doubt the ones in charge know what is going on. Homeopathy and the supplement industry certainly fall into that category, and the list goes on. It is frustrating to see people waste their money on such things and refuse effective treatments.
One of the better websites regarding such things is:

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This reminded me of a haiku by the 19th Century Japanese poet, Kobayashi Issa:

a new year —
the same old nonsense
piled on nonsense


I found this article very interesting–am still digesting. It intrigues me how we can deceive ourselves as much as we deceive others.


How self-deception allows people to lie - BBC Worklife


That of course reminds me of Psalm 15:2 (that seems to happen a lot ; - )…

[Blessed is the one who]…speaks truth IN his heart.
Psalm 15:2

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