Manchester Art Gallery

The Dentist

Object description

Interior scene showing a man seated on the left being treated by a dentist. The patient, who wears a belted smock, sits on a wooden chair, a stick in his hand, the dentist examining his mouth with a small metal instrument. The dentist is wearing a blue apron round his waist, and a faded black soft cap or hat. An elderly woman wearing a white cap and collar stands behind the chair, watching the examination. She stands near to a rough wooden door, which is open, judging by the brighter light falling on her side, but the viewer cannot see outdoors. On the door is hung what appears to be a bunch of garlic, and in front of it is a rough wooden bench, on which is placed the patient’s soft felt hat, and below which is a glazed terracotta pot. To the right of the dentist, a young boy picks up a small bowl from a round table covered with various jars and implements. On the wall behind the boy is a drawing of a man, its bottom corner slightly curled up. In the foreground, in the bottom right corner, stands a large covered pot or urn next to a large metal bowl. Behind the dentist and patient, on the wall, is a high shelf filled with a variety of ceramic vessels, and below this shelf four hooks with herbs and implements hanging on them. The room extends back on the right. A high window at the back right throws some light on this rear area, but it is a generally brown-toned, shady part of the picture. In this shadowy area, a man stands in a small workshop, his back to the viewer, a bottle in his hand.

Display label

The Dentist 1652 David Teniers 1610 - 1690 Oil on panel Dentists, like doctors, were often seen as quacks and tooth pulling was often a fairground attraction. Usually the victim would be howling in pain surrounded by a group of gawping peasants, but this scene is remarkably restrained and sympathetic. An old peasant has come to the dentist's house. On the table are pots and potions and on the floor a barber's bowl. No doubt the dapper practitioner combined both jobs. Assheton - Bennett bequest 1979.506