Title   Baartscheerder (Search for the image)
Translated title Barber
Intro Text by dr D. Barnes, accompanying Bramer’s drawing of a barber (‘barbier’)

Code of occupational group 57030
Description On first glance, Bramer's barber stands facing his customer seated in a chair and appears to be shaving him. A metal shaving pan is placed under the neck of the seated customer, who has a cloth sheet draped to protect his clothing from hair, soap, and water. The barber has a purse and holder for shears hanging from a belt at his waist. The customer wears expensive fancy shoes with ribboned decorations over the instep; ribbon garters hold his hose just below the knee. Behind the barber, on both walls of the shop, are shelves with various splint boxes, some square, others rounded, and at least four square-sided case bottles. Two additional metal shaving pans hang on the wall at the right; a wooden box, with hinged cover hangs from a nail on the left wall.

Closer examination reveals that the customer's head has been drawn on a flap of paper, which is glued at the top, but can be lifted. Once lifted, it reveals that the "customer" is actually a long-eared sheep, wearing men's clothing.

Barbers not only shaved and trimmed men's hair and beards during the 17th century, they also functioned as surgeons who performed blood-letting on the necks, arms, and legs of sick customers. People believed that certain medical problems could be alleviated by releasing small amounts of blood from the body, not because it was felt that blood would wash out a wound's infection, but because of a theory of "humors" that affected temperature and bodily conditions. On occasion, then, barbers worked in concert with other healers, such as dentists and quacks who promised cures with powerful medicines.

Humorous images of the barber, quack, and dentist are abundant in Dutch art. Early beginnings can be traced to Lucas van Leyden's 1524 copper- plate of a barber-surgeon using a razor to release blood or a "stone" from behind the ear of a man seated on the floor. For samples of 17th-century treatments see, Pieter Quast's 1632 version of "The Doctor's Shop" (Princeton); Jan Both's 1641 etching of the dentist for the sense of touch; Jan Steen's 1651 "Dentist" (Mauritshuis); or Jan Victors' 1654 "Dentist" (Amsterdam Historical Museum). Perhaps the only serious image of a barber-surgeon is the portrait of J.F. Hercules and his family in his barbershop by Egbert van Heemskerk (Amsterdam Historical Museum).

But more importantly, the source of Bramer's "joke" is to be found in a much earlier print (1605) based on an invention by David Vinckboins and executed by Nicola de Visscher. There a barber shaves an elegantly dressed sheep while some fashionable men watch. The print is accompanied by mocking words: "Comt Heer en Cnaep/tot dat t'hier vol is/Je Scheer het Schaep/ nae datter Wol is", making fun of smart gentlemen full of themselves while the barber shears a sheep because that's where the wool is.

Source Donna R. Barnes, Ed D, Street scenes, Leonard Bramer's drawings of seventeenth-century daily life (Hofstra Museum exhibition 1991). Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York.

Click here for the introductory essay on Bramer's drawings.

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