As promised, a classic illustration from Gaspare Tagiacozzi’s De curtorum chirurgia per insitionem (1597, book 2). Tagliocozzi shows autografting–grafts using the patient’s own skin. In addition to the ravages of syphilis, nose jobs were needed to repair injuries in battle, but also after duels.
The question that I always get is: Did they work? The problem is that we do not have a lot a data on survival rates after such surgeries. We have a good number of case histories, but often there is more information about the specifics of the surgery–rather than the post-op outcomes.
I can say that it’s important to remember that antisepsis and anesthesia were 19th-century discoveries. This means that surgery had an even more complex set of potential complications than it does today. Like most of the early-modern folks, I would certainly not line up to get a nose job or breast enhancement surgery just for the heck of it. Come to think of it…I wouldn’t do that now anyway!
For more on all of this, I recommend Sander Gilman’s excellent Making the Body Beautiful: A Cultural History of Aesthetic Surgery. Gilman is on the faculty at Emory and a top cultural historian.
Image courtesy of: Lilly Library, Medical Collections.