A verger's dream: Saints Cosmas and Damian performing a miraculous cure by transplantation of a leg. Oil painting attributed to the Master of Los Balbases, ca. 1495.

  • Master of Los Balbases (Painter in Burgos), active approximately 1495.
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A verger's dream: Saints Cosmas and Damian performing a miraculous cure by transplantation of a leg. Oil painting attributed to the Master of Los Balbases, ca. 1495. Public Domain Mark. Source: Wellcome Collection.

About this work


The episode is described by Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda aurea, 1275, translated into English by William Caxton, 1483, vol. 5, edited by F.S. Ellis, Temple Classics 1900, as follows: "Felix, the eighth pope after S. Gregory, did do make a noble church at Rome of the saints Cosmo and Damian, and there was a man which served devoutly the holy martyrs in that church, who a canker had consumed all his thigh. And as he slept, the holy martyrs Cosmo and Damian, appeared to him their devout servant, bringing with them an instrument and ointment of whom that one said to that other: Where shall we have flesh when we have cut away the rotten flesh to fill the void place? Then that other said to him: There is an Ethiopian that this day is buried in the churchyard of S. Peter ad Vincula, which is yet fresh, let us bear this thither, and take we out of that morian's flesh and fill this place withal. And so they fetched the thigh of the sick man and so changed that one for that other. And when the sick man awoke and felt no pain, he put forth his hand and felt his leg without hurt, and then took a candle, and saw well that it was not his thigh, but that it was another. And when he was well come to himself, he sprang out of his bed for joy, and recounted to all the people how it was happed to him, and that which he had seen in his sleep, and how he was healed. And they sent hastily to the tomb of the dead man, and found the thigh of him cut off, and that other thigh in the tomb instead of his. Then let us pray unto these holy martyrs to be our succour and help in all our hurts, blechures and sores, and that by their merits after this life we may come to everlasting bliss in heaven. Amen."

Saints Cosmas and Damian practised medicine and surgery without payment according to their legend, and were therefore represented to the lay public as medical ideals. In this Spanish altarpiece they are shown in the full finery of academic doctors as they perform their miraculous operation. The painter shows only one bone running through the limb below the knee-joint, whereas empirical research reveals that there are two, the tibia and fibula. This not uncommon fallacy may be derived from the fact that in classical antiquity the same word (tibia) was used for both the larger bone in the leg and for the leg as a whole

For aspects of the iconography of the miracle see cited articles by E. Rinaldi, Douglas B. Price, and Zimmerman



Physical description

1 painting : oil on wood ; wood approximately 169 x 133 cm

Related material

Select images of this work were taken by the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum: WT/D/1/20/1/46/61
Select images of this work were taken by the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum: WT/D/1/20/1/44/58

References note

Chandler Rathfon Post, A history of Spanish painting, Cambridge, Mass., vol. 4, part ii (1933), pp. 202 - 210; vol. 5 (1934), pp. 326 - 331; vol. 9 (1947), pp. 800 - 803
J. Gudiol Ricart, 'Pintura gótica', Ars Hispaniae, IX, Madrid 1955, p. 366
Douglas B. Price, "Miraculous restoration of lost body parts: relationship to the phantom limb phenomenon and to limb-burial superstition and practices", in American folk medicine ed. W. D. Hand, Berkeley, California, 1976, pp. 49-71
E. Rinaldi, "The first homoplastic limb transplant according to the legend of saint Cosmas and saint Damian", Italian Journal of Orthopedics and Traumatology, 1987, 13 (3): 393-406
María Pilar Silva Maroto, Pintura hispanoflamenca castellana, Burgos y Palencia: obras en tabla y sarga, [Valladolid]: Junta de Castilla y León, Consejería de Cultura y Bienestar Social, 1990, vol. 3, pp. 790-792, Alonso de Sedano no. 37
M.P. Silva Maroto, 'La pintura hispanoflamenca', in La pintura sobre tabla de los siglos XV y XVI de la catedral de Burgos, Burgos 1994
D. Jose Ignacio Hernandez Redondo, in Vlaanderen en Castilla y León: op de drempel van Europa, Antwerp: Kathedraal Antwerpen, 1995, pp. 356 and 357 (reproduction of painting of the Nativity in Museum of Burgos cathedral)
Kees W. Zimmerman, One leg in the grave: the miracle of the transplantation of the black leg by the saints Cosmas and Damian, Maarsen 1998, pl. 29
Yubraj Sharma, Spiritual energetics of homoeopathic materia medica, Wembley: Academy of light, 2006, vol. 2, p. 683
Carmen Fracchia, 'Constructing the black slave in early modern Spanish painting', in Others and outcasts in early modern Europe: picturing the social margins, edited by Tom Nichols, Aldershot, England and Burlington, Vermont, 2007, pp. 180-195 (fig. 8.1)
Corrado Lavini, Medicina ed arti figurative: due mondi affascinanti, un rapporto profondo e complesso, Modena 2009, p. 60 (reproduced)
David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., general editors; Karen C.C. Dalton, associate editor, The image of the black in western art, Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press in collaboration with the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research; [Houston, Tex.] : Menil Collection, 2010- , vol. 2, part 2 (From the early Christian era to the "age of discovery": Africans in the Christian ordinance of the world), p. 229 (as by Fernando Gallego)
David Hamilton, A history of organ transplantation, Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012, reproduced on front cover
Jess Bailey, 'Exhibiting health and difference at Henry Wellcome's Historical Medical Museum', Kritische Berichte, 2020, 48 (4): 30-43 (pp. 32-33)


Wellcome Collection 46009i

Creator/production credits

Previously attributed to Alonso de Sedano: see Chandler Rathfon Post, loc. cit. The attribution rested initially on the stylistic resemblance between (1) the Wellcome picture; (2) an altar-piece of Saint Sebastian in the cathedral of Palma de Mallorca, documented as painted by Pedro Terrenchs and Alonso de Sedano ca. 1486/1496; and (3) a six-panel altar-piece from Burgos cathedral now in the Diocesan Museum, Burgos. Post was later provided with a document which showed that the Burgos cathedral panels were painted by Alonso de Sedano before 8 July 1496, and which therefore provided a name for the painter of the Wellcome picture also. The latter was probably painted for the church of Saints Cosmas and Damian (SS. Cosme y Damián), Burgos, where a copy of this painting was noted by Post
On the later attribution to the Maestro de los Balbases see D. Jose Ignacio Hernandez Redondo, loc. cit. In 1763, when the 1495 retable of the cathedral of Burgos was taken down, of the eleven paintings preserved, the six now exhibited in the Diocesan Museum were attributed to an associate of Alonso de Sedano, including the Presentation in the temple, the Nativity, and the arrest of Christ. This painter was given the name "Maestro de los Balbases" by Gudiol, from the attribution to this artist of the retable of the church of St Stephen in the village of Los Balbases near Burgos. In the work of Pilar Silva Maroto (1994), new works are attributed to the artist, his production is examined, and the conclusion is reached that he could be the painter Andrés Sánchez de Oña, who is documented at Burgos between 1484 and 1510. The Wellcome painting seems close in style to the works attributed to this painter, though Silva Maroto (1990) retains an attribution to Alonso de Sedano

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