Wooden legs as compassion attractors

“Rembrandt’s etching of a beggar with a wooden leg is notable because the two lower limbs of the presumed beggar are present and not deformed.”


– note authors J. ten Kate (MD), F. G. I. Jennekens (MD, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Clinical Neurology) and J. M. E. Vos-Niël (MD, MAPhil, Retired Lecturer in Rehabilitation Medicine) in The Bone & Joint Journal, February 2009, vol. 91-B, no. 2, pp. 278-282. And, furthermore :

“[…] the man depicted by Rembrandt had no begging bowl and was unable to collect money by hand. If the man had attached the artificial leg to his knee to attract compassion, he did not exploit it by begging.”

Such observations prompted the team to perform one of the only in-depth investigations of wooden leg depictions in engravings and etchings (n=28) from the low countries, produced between 1500 -1700. The results of their study revealed that:

“Artificial legs in the period 1500 to 1700 were not only used when part of a lower limb was absent. The etchings and engravings indicate that they were also employed by people with disorders of the knee and lower leg. They may also have been used to attract compassion.“

See:Rembrandt’s ‘Beggar with a wooden leg’ and other comparable prints’