Doctors don’t feature much in art. True, the walls of royal colleges record changing fashions in portraiture, and wealthy society doctors like to commission pictures of themselves. Satirists like Hogarth have lampooned the quacks and moody Scandinavians included them as bit players in deathbed scenes. But only rarely does a picture featuring a doctor command our attention.
In his seventies, deaf and widowed, Francisco Goya was living at Quinta del Sordo (the Deaf Man’s Farmhouse) near Madrid and covering its walls with his nightmare visions. Now known now as the black paintings, they hang today in the Prado in Madrid. He fell ill and was attended by his friend Dr Eugenio García Arrieta. He recovered, and the next year painted ‘Goya curado por el doctor Arrieta’ (‘Goya cured by Doctor Arrieta’) as a thank-you for his friend.
Goya’s self-portrait shows how ill he was. His skin is grey, his eyes sunken, his jaw slack. He plucks at the sheets. Behind the two men other faces are faintly visible; perhaps Goya is hallucinating. He has no strength. Arrieta, his arm round the painter, props him up and urges him to drink. The liquid in the glass is brownish. Is it medicine, or perhaps wine which may well have been a safer fluid to take than water? The doctor’s expression is intense; he has his eyes on the glass as he lifts it to Goya’s lips. At this moment he is not permitting himself to yield to sorrow.