The love affair of art and science is a tale as old as time, and we’re still writing new pages.
In a discovery that seems to have been hidden in plain sight, Italian researchers have determined that a painting of French pilgrim Saint Roch clearly depicts the crippling parasitic disease dracunculiasis (Guinea Worm Disease).
The painting (tempera on canvas) is an altarpiece in the picture gallery of Bari in Puglia, Italy dated between the end of the 15th and the beginning of 16th century.
“It is considered a rare example of Late Gothic painting in Puglia, but the academics have failed to identify the artist, certainly gifted of a hybrid culture between the Gothic and the Byzantine iconic style,” writes the Journal of Infection website where the study will be published.
The piece was long thought to have been showing St. Roch with a wound emitting a long string of pus, but a recent study has revealed that the white matter is actually the thread-like worm generated by dracunculiasis.
“We believe instead that the painter portrayed an ancient case of dracunculiasis, an infectious disease caused by a nematode worm, the Dracunculus medinensis, well known in antiquity,” wrote paleopathologist Raffaele Gaeta in the study conducted with Fabrizio Bruschi and Valentina Giuffra.
Dracunculiasis is notorious for the pain it inflicts on its victims, and the worm that comes out of the blister that can grow nearly a meter long.
The good news is that in 1986, The Carter Center started its international campaign to eradicate Guinea worm disease, and now claims that from the 3.5 million cases recorded that year, that number has been reduced by 99.99% today.
For more information on the Guinea Worm Disease and The Carter Center’s Eradication Program, click here.