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Ange-Bernard Imbert-Delonnes. Drawing by P. Chasselat, 1799-1800.

Chasselat, Pierre.
L'an 8 [1799-1800]
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Credit: Ange-Bernard Imbert-Delonnes. Drawing by P. Chasselat, 1799-1800. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

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The tall figure of Ange-Bernard Imbert Delonnes (1747-1818) is shown sitting in a lordly pose with a chair, table and inkwell in neoclassical style, holding his pen as if putting the finishing touches to the "Progress of the art of healing"

Ange-Bernard Imbert Delonnes (1747-1818) is known from his writings, and from writings about him, as a fearless surgeon, reproached for his boldness but defiant of criticism and proud of his achievements, whose career in France under the Ancien Régime, the Revolution and the Empire took many twists and turns. Many details in the drawing have led to the identification of the sitter as Imbert Delonnes, and together they form part of his reply to his critics: an Apologia pro vita sua. The manuscript on his desk is of a work on the Progress of the art of healing. In the bottom left corner is a portrait painting (within the portrait) of one of his famous patients, Perier de Gurat. In the top right corner is another portrait, this time of Imbert Delonnes's role model, the French surgeon Ambroise Paré (1510?-1590), and books by Paré are shown in the bottom left. The verses inscribed beneath the portrait praising Imbert Delonnes's contributions to the arts of surgery ("De son art bienfaisant il agrandit la sphère") and of literature are by Charles Palissot de Montenoy (1730-1814), a playwright and Imbert Delonnes's father-in-law. Imbert Delonnes's library and statue of Aesculapius are represented in the left background. Finally, most conspicuous of all is the object displayed in a huge glass jar: the giant testicular tumour removed by Imbert Delonnes from Charles Delacroix (1741-1805), French Foreign Minister and legally father of the painter Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), though probably not his biological father, owing to this very tumour (the painter Delacroix's biological father was believed to be Talleyrand)

Propped up in the left foreground is a portrait painting of the subject of one of Imbert Delonnes's two most remarkable and controversial operations: Perier de Gurat, mayor of Angoulême. Perier de Gurat suffered from a huge facial tumour which Imbert Delonnes successfully removed, after which he reconstructed his nose. Imbert Delonnes published this operation in his work Nouvelles considérations sur le cautère actuel; apologie de ce puissant remède comparé avec les caustiques; réflexions critiques sur le cautère habituel, les exutoires, la saignée, les sangsues, Avignon: F. Seguin, Snr., 1812, which includes before-and-after engravings of Perier de Gurat (the "before" portrait is the one shown in the drawing). We know from the Nouvelles considérations that Imbert Delonnes wanted to preserve the "curious image" of Perier de Gurat in his study and that he commissioned the painter Joseph Boze from Marseilles (1744-1826) to paint it (pp. 416-417): this is the one shown in the drawing. The Wellcome Library has a copy of the Nouvelles considérations with an autograph inscription by Imbert Delonnes

Leaning against the portrait of Perier de Gurat in the lower left corner is a volume of the works of Ambroise Paré, answering the portrait of Paré in the opposite corner of the drawing. Imbert Delonnes admired and emulated Paré (along with "Harvée" Harvey) for their bold disregard of opposition and their refusal to go along with the conventional practices of their times (Imbert Delonnes, Opération de sarcocèle, Paris 1797, pp. 29-31, and elsewhere)

In the glass jar on the right is displayed testimony to the second of Imbert Delonnes's greatest surgical feats: the colossal testicular tumour removed by Imbert Delonnes from Charles Delacroix (1741-1805), a French Minister of Foreign Affairs and subsequently the Republic's ambassador in the Netherlands. Again, Imbert Delonnes considered this operation one of his masterpieces, and wrote it up with two large folding plates of the tumour in his Nouvelles considérations. In accordance with its importance to Imbert Delonnes, it is displayed on a mighty stone column. Delacroix's eight medical advisers had formed a consultation in which seven of them argued that the tumour should not be touched, or in Imbert Delonnes's phrase it was "une de celles qu'on a désignées sous le nom pusillanime et barbare Noli me tangere". Imbert Delonnes was of course the one against seven, and after reading Imbert Delonnes's Traité sur l'hydrocèle, Delacroix agreed to go along with him, much to the disgust of the other consultants. The glass jar containing the tumour is described by Imbert-Delonnes as "l'immense bocal qui la renferme" (Progrès de la chirurgie en France, an. VI, p. 25)

"Jamais coups de bistouris n'eurent une publicité pareille" (Gayet, Talleyrand 1754-1838, Paris 1928-1930, vol. 1 p. 251). The tumour weighed 32 pounds in its natural state, and was removed in a two and a half hour operation

The verses inscribed beneath the portrait are attributed in the drawing to Charles Palissot de Montenoy (1730-1814), a playwright and the father-in-law of Imbert Delonnes. They also appear below a portrait engraving of Imbert Delonnes, which is a head and shoulders copy of the present portrait. They praise Imbert Delonnes's contributions to surgery and to other arts

Showing that an educated surgeon like Imbert Delonnes was far removed from the unlettered surgeons of the lower class, the library and statue of Aesculapius in the left background demonstrate his standing on a level with the learned physicians of the Aesculapian tradition. Imbert Delonnes's two major monographs Traité de l'hydrocèle, 1785, and Nouvelles considérations sur le cautère actuel, 1812, both review the literature from Galen and Paul of Aegina to Pott and Pringle. The library looks like a real library: it has the heavy folios at floor level, then quartos and octavos on progressively higher shelves, with the lightest books, a mixture of octavos and duodecimos, placed so that they can be easily prised from the top shelf


L'an 8 [1799-1800]

Physical description

1 drawing : black chalk heightened with white gouache ; sheet 62.5 x 47.8 cm


Chasselat L'an 8. De son art bienfaisant il agrandit la sphère. Esculape conduit sa main, Minerve sa pensée. Il réunit enfin L'art de guérir et l'art de plaire. Palissot

Publications note

Not in: Jacques Robert, La vie et l'oeuvre du chirurgien Imbert-Delonnes (1747-1818), Thesis--Univ. Claude Bernard, Lyons, 1976
Ulrich Leben, Molitor: ébéniste from the Ancien Régime to the Bourbon restoration, London 1992 ("Portrait by C. Pallissat [sic] showing an unknown 'man of science', 1798 [sic]. The attitude, clothes, historical references and modern furniture are clearly intended to reveal the sitter as a man following the ideals of his time. Private collection")
Marc Fecker and William Schupbach, 'A recently discovered portrait of the surgeon Ange Bernard Imbert-Delonnes (1747-1818) by Pierre Chasselat', The Burlington magazine, April 2012, 154: 236-240.
'Pierre Chasselat--Wellcome Library, London', Art quarterly, 2012 (winter), pp. 82-83


Wellcome Library no. 729420i, acquired with the assistance of the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund ( ) and The Art Fund ( )


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