Back in May, just a few months into quarantine, I heard sirens outside. Police cars, a fire truck, an ambulance. Instead of flying past, they stopped right outside my window. I looked just in time to see two EMTs heading into the building next door.
They had on masks, gowns, booties…they were hazmatted up, like they were ready to perform surgery. Or encounter the bubonic plague. Welcome to the summer of 2020.
If it was the 14th Century, however, I would've seen them dressed like this Plague Doctor. Yes, during the black plague, these figures were real, right on down to the freaky beaked mask. Plague doctors were hired by towns to "tend" the sick; however, because there was no cure, and the plague doctors often had zero medical training, they mainly performed census duties, counting and reporting deaths.
If you were lucky, you'd get a plague doctor who'd be willing to try *something* to help. Maybe he'd cover you with leeches. Sprinkle you with ashes. Administer emetics so you’d throw up the sickness. Or fill your home with smoke from burning pitch. If you got the jaded ones, they might poke you with their stick to get you to turn over during an examination, or just use it to keep you a "safe" distance away.
The beak had an intended benefit aside from giving children nightmares. Back then, they believed the plague was transmitted through terrible smells (the stench of rotting corpses was no joke) and so the doctors filled the end of the beak with aromatics so they could breathe through something as sweet-smelling as a posie.
And then they all fell down.
This Plague Doctor is based on a copper engraving from 17th Century Rome. My version is embroidered using a single strand of thread at a time. The frame is a chunky, rustic wooden frame with nicks and scuffs that I left in place because they seemed perfectly suited for the subject matter.
The frame is 14.75" wide x 17.75" tall. The art itself is 10 x 13.