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A troupe of travelling performers including a toothdrawer. Oil painting, 16--, after Theodor Rombouts.

Rombouts, Theodoor, 1597-1637.
[between 1600 and 1699]


Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

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Credit: A troupe of travelling performers including a toothdrawer. Oil painting, 16--, after Theodor Rombouts. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

About this work


From the 16th century to the early 20th century there are paintings and other records of performers whose acts consisted in part of tooth extractions. In the 17th century, travelling actors worked in troupes as a support act to specialist tooth-drawers who themselves formed part of the entertainment. These operators often had craft skills, experience, and expensive instruments such as those shown on the table in this painting. Because they worked outside the guild system of locally established surgeons, the latter often tried to protect their own business by dubbing the interlopers as charlatans or quacks and taking them to court. However, these travelling performers carried out a useful service, were often brilliant entertainers, and were therefore a very popular and welcome presence at fairs and markets In this painting, the leader of the troupe, near the centre, performs or pretends to perform a tooth extraction. He is surrounded by his companions who pretend to be casual bystanders. The man in the right foreground is being gulled by all the other people, who attempt to get him to volunteer to have a bad tooth extracted, or to buy a medicine from them to ease the pain. Caravaggesque paintings usually illustrate some illusion or deception such as pickpocketing or card-sharping which the viewer of the painting can see but the victim in the painting cannot. The resulting dramatic irony provides the subject of the picture Theodor Rombouts (1597-1637) was a Flemish painter who worked in Italy where he learnt the Caravaggesque technique of composing horizontal groupings of half-length figures in action, as here. This is his best known composition: there are versions in Madrid, St Omer, and Prague as well as the present version, it was engraved twice, and it was adapted in the eighteenth century by the Antwerp painter Joseph Horemans


[between 1600 and 1699]

Physical description

1 painting : oil on canvas ; canvas 1.138 x 1.96 m.


Wellcome Library no. 44609i



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