A swollen and inflamed foot: gout is represented by an attacking demon. Coloured soft-ground etching by J. Gillray, 1799.
- Gillray, James, 1756-1815.
- 14 May 1799
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About this work
Gout is an intensely painful disease of the joints of the fingers and toes, and sometimes other joints. In traditional western medicine it is associated with the infusion or drip (Latin gutta, hence the English word gout) of wet humours (phlegm and/or blood) into the cavity of a damaged organ. Although it was regarded by many as incurable, there was a demand for treatments, which included a diet designed to rebalance the proportion of humours in the body as a whole, and bloodletting positioned to draw blood away from the gouty organ. Some students of gout theorized that there was a "morbid humour" specific to gout, and, a corresponding specific remedy which God had placed in the plant colchicum, the metal gold, or some other substance. In 1848, a year of revolutions in Europe, such a "morbid humour" was indeed identified as a naturally occurring chemical, uric acid. In another period of rapid change, the 1960s, a corresponding remedy was found when staff at the Burroughs Wellcome laboratories in the USA discovered the medicine allopurinol
As Porter and Rousseau point out, Gillray's print The gout (1799) is unique in restricting its focus to the diseased organ. There are dozens of other Georgian and earlier prints of gouty people, but they all show the whole patient in a social context. Gillray's depiction isolates the painful organ from the tragi-comedy of manners surrounding the disease: the face of the sufferer, the furnishings of the room, and the friends offering comfort are all excluded, perhaps representing the ability of the disease to block out everything else from the victim's mind