BetaThis search tool is in development. Find out more.
Digital Images

Human skin with tattoo, France, 1866

Science Museum, London


Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

You can use this work for any purpose, including commercial uses, without restriction under copyright law. You should also provide attribution to the original work, source and licence.

Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) terms and conditions

Credit: Human skin with tattoo, France, 1866. Credit: Science Museum, London. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

About this work


Tattooed onto human skin is the symbol of a crossed spade and pickaxe. It bears the inscription ‘H REYNAUT 1866’. This may have been the name of a loved one or perhaps the owner of the tattoo. The symbolism of the crossed spade and pickaxe was later used in association with communism, but also appears on crests and army uniforms as a mark of distinction. The skin was once owned by Parisian surgeon Dr Villette. He worked in military hospitals and collected and preserved hundreds of samples from the bodies of dead French soldiers. In the late 1800s, tattoos were often seen as markers of criminal tendencies or ‘primitiveness’. Medical men tried to interpret common images and symbols. Tattoos were also a tool for identification, a practice that continues today. This tattoo is one of a large group bought for Henry Wellcome’s medical collection by one of his agents, Captain Johnston-Saint. maker: Unknown maker Place made: France


We’re improving the information on this page. Find out more.