Dou, in his painting, seems to perceive that this was the beginning of a new path that would lead medicine to modernity, a path along which medical practice would be increasingly exerted on the patient, rather than with the patient.
The painting is composed as a theatrical scene, and the tapestry acts as a drop-curtain. The right foot is evidently swelling, the posture of the woman suggests that she is fatigued and probably breathless, her belly is enlarged and urine is dark and scarce: all these factors indicate that the author thoroughly and carefully researched hydropsy. The doctor is portrayed while he is seriously committed to the diagnosis, his image is respectful and there is no hint of quackery.
The solid isosceles triangle, sustained at its apex by the chandelier, which is brightly silhouetted in contrast with the dense dark color of the shadow in the background, is broken by the entrance of light. The sick woman looks at the light, in search of a healing that, as she understands, the cure cannot give her. The patient, and not the doctor, is the centre of the painting, and she is alone despite the efforts of those who stand by her.
The dropsical woman, 1662 oil on wood, 86×78 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris
Gerrit Dou (1613-1675)
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