Haunting medical portraits reveal extreme symptoms suffered

Haunting medical portraits reveal extreme symptoms suffered

Haunting medical portraits reveal extreme symptoms suffered by patients during the 19th Century at one of Holland’s oldest hospitals – including a woman who grew a ‘horn’

  • Portraits, taken in the 1890s, were captured as medical records for patents at the Utrecht University Hospital
  • Photographs give insight into the early days of medical photography when clinical standards yet to be made
  • Patients include an elderly woman with a cutaneous horn – a keratinous skin growth on the back of her head

A set of haunting medical portraits reveal the extreme symptoms suffered by patients at one of Holland’s oldest hospitals in the late 19th century.

The photographs, which date back to the 1890s, were part of medical records collected for patients at the Utrecht University Hospital in the Netherlands.

The hospital, which is now known as University Medical Center Utrecht, is one of the country’s oldest clinics and was founded alongside Utrecht University in 1636.

These portraits provide an insight into the early days of medical photography – when clinical standards had yet to be established and many of the pictures were more poignant than scientific.

Among those photographed is an elderly woman with a cutaneous horn – a keratinous skin growth which forms the appearance of a ‘horn’ on the back of her head. 

Also included is a portrait of a little girl with congenital melanocytic nevus. This is a dark, hairy birthmark which covers the right side of her face. 

Another image shows a patient suffering from ‘Utretchtse Krop’ – a thyroid condition once common in the city of Utretcht due to an iodine deficiency in the drinking water.


Patients photographed at Utrecht University Hospital in the Netherlands in the 1890s included young girl suffering from Congenital Melanocytic Nevus (left). This is a dark, hair-covered patch of skin found on the body at birth – the birthmark can then continue to grow as the child ages. Also pictured is a woman with a cleft lip (right). This is a gap or split in the upper lip or roof of the mouth which appears when parts of a baby’s face don’t join together properly during development in the womb

The photographs, which date back to the 1890s, were captured as medical records for patients at the hospital and included a portrait of a young boy who was suffering from a Hibernoma. This is a rare benign tumour of brown fat cells which represents around one per cent of all tumors of fat. It is often found on the thigh, head and neck of young adults and can grow up to 20cm in size


This collection of portraits provides an insight into the early days of medical photography – when clinical standards had yet to be established. One patient (pictured left) was photographed with a growth on his arm while another (pictured right) was pictured with a large tumour on the back of his head


Patients photographed at the Utrecht University Hospital in the 1890s included a young man suffering from a severe facial tumour (left) and a man with the thyroid disorder (right) ‘Utretchtse Krop’. This was once common in the city of Utretcht due to an iodine deficiency in the drinking water


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An elderly woman (left) was pictured with a a cutaneous horn, an uncommon growth made of keratin which appears on the skin. The lesion may look like a cone, spike or a horn, and it is known to vary in size. The condition is most common in older people and most growths are benign. Also photographed is a young man suffering from Lordosis (right). This is a type of congenital spine deformity which causes an inward curvature of the spine

Another patient was photographed with stitches in her nose and wearing padded headdress after having undergone a nose reconstruction at Utrecht University Hospital


One woman (left) appears to have a small growth on the side of her neck as another patient (right) is photographed with the upper part of his right arm missing after having undergone surgery to have a tumour removed from his limb


A patient in the 1890s was photographed suffering from Oligodactyly (left). This is the presence of fewer than five fingers or toes on a hand or foot. Another man (right) is seen sat down with an ‘extreme’ tumour on his back 

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