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Portraits of John Hunter's patients
  1. Douglas Hugh James
  1. Correspondence to Douglas Hugh James, Department of History/Centre for the Humanities and Health, King's College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, UK; Douglas.james{at}


Portraits of patients served many clinical functions in eighteenth-century medic John Hunter's medical practice. As incarnations of medical skills and medical knowledge, they helped Hunter understand his patients’ problems. They could also bridge the physical absence of his patients, and so help him discuss cases at a distance with other members of the medical faculty. Moreover, portraits complemented text in his day-to-day practice; portraits were in no way an ancillary medium for Hunter, but rather a fundamental way of working. Meanwhile, the role of Hunter's assistants as medically trained artists complicates typical historical models of patient–practitioner interactions, and affects how patients were objectified by modes of looking and by art.

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