The past: a gallery of arthritics

Clin Rheumatol. 1989 Dec;8(4):442-52. doi: 10.1007/BF02032095.


Rheumatism in its many forms has affected mankind since ancient times. Numerous examples exist of the powerful and the famous who suffered these afflictions. In some cases the disease process in thought to have, through the sufferers, altered the course of history itself. Throughout history, the arts have served as a means by which man expressed life's broad range of emotions: love, beauty, despair, loneliness. But the works of several prominent artists also reflect the pain and frustration of arthritis. Examples of common diseases include low back pain and sciatica, which disabled Aneas of Greek mythology, Jacob of Biblical times, Sister Catherine and Jefferson. Lincoln and Paganini are both thought to have suffered from Marfan's syndrome. Ankylosing spondylitis affected Cosimo de Medici and the poet Scarron, while the disability of Columbus is thought to be more compatible with Reiter's Syndrome. Without even considering the numerous examples of famous personnages who had gout, one can find multiple historical and artistic figures who suffered from chronic polyarthritis. A brief list would include the Emperor Constantine, Rubens, Mary Queen of Scots, Madison, Renoir, Verlaine, and Dufy. Since these disorders can also be found in historical references, one wonders if, having affected the lives and temperaments of the eminent, the powerful, or an entire population, they may have in some circumstances exerted some influence on the course of world history, or, through artistic talents, contributed to the intellectual enrichment of society.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Art / history
  • History, 15th Century
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval
  • Humans
  • Literature / history
  • Music / history
  • Rheumatic Diseases / history*