The Tooth Extractor

This summer I visited the Penn Dental School and was taken aback by a 1635 painting hung on a wall, titled “The Tooth Extractor” by Theodor Rombouts. The original painting is currently in the Bridgeman Arts Library in Madrid, Spain. The painting depicts early unsanitary dentistry practices, with a dentist and group of spectators surrounding a female patient as the dentist extracts her tooth. This painting depicts the dentist and spectators wearing normal clothing with no protective clothing or gloves, and with dentistry tools scattered on a table. The entire painting is jarring and provokes discomfort, with the female patient being held down, performed on, and surrounded by a male dentist and all male spectators. The patient has a facial expression of pain. Her right hand appears to be tied down to the arm of her chair and her left arm is attempting to reach out but is being held down by the dentist. The dentist appears to be looking at the viewer of the painting and has an ambiguous facial expression. Several spectators stare with interest and awe, two are engaging in a conversation about the procedure, and some stare off to the side seemingly in discomfort.

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