Seen this way, it seems that I have something against the painting, but no.
Before I read it, I never imagined that the Venus in question would suffer from thyroid problems. However, this conclusión was reached long ago by a group of researchers who thought that, no matter how plump she might have been, rather than a double chin, this girl must have had the goitre.
Now it’s the maid’s turn, who also has the goitre. And what I could have sworn was a brushstroke effect turns out to be vitiligo in its entirety.
But Rubens, if more than a painting this looks like a medical treatise!
The question is that if these two girls existed and coincided in time and place, they must have been exposed to some environmental factor that triggered all this. And I’m not saying it myself, but from the scientist of the Imperial College London, if he carries on like this, they will hire him as a scriptwriter in the already mentioned drama TV series.
Ruben painted the painting in 1615 in Antwerp in northern Belgium, an area historically linked to high iodine consumption. This could explain the origin of the goitre on the Venus and a type of autoimmune thyroid responsible for vitiligo with the maid’s goitre.
In autoimmune diseases, the body’s somewhat disrupted defences attack the individual.
In the case of goitres, the attack is directed at the thyroid gland, causing the front of the neck to swell, below what we commonly call Adam’s apple.
In vitiligo, the attack affects the pigmentation of the skin and hair in an irregular way, which causes the appearance of very particular discoloured spots. In the maid’s case, you can see them in various areas of the face and neck, and in her white hair that is tied back.
It is curious that “Venus in the Mirror” has become the first pictorial representation of vitiligo. Previously, only we can find small description in ancient texts.
But more importantly, these findings could provide a historical overview of the distribution, frequency and the main factors which caused thyroid disease in northern Europe, known as epidemiology.
That said, look at the picture again. Doesn’t the Venus have the goitre and her maid vitiligo?.