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Wellcome Library Gains Rare Portrait of French Surgeon Ange-Bernard Imbert-Delonnes
Pierre Chasselat, Portrait of the surgeon Ange-Bernard Imbert Delonnes, The Wellcome Library, © The Wellcome Trust. All rights reserved.
LONDON.- The Art Fund has helped acquire a rare portrait of French surgeon Ange-Bernard Imbert-Delonnes (1747-1818) by Pierre Chasselat for the Wellcome Library...

The magnificent portrait drawing of the French surgeon Imbert-Delonnes speaks of his gory surgical conquests and family intrigue. The minutely detailed interior includes a gruesome souvenir of Imbert Delonnes's proudest achievement: a gigantic testicular tumour (sarcocele) which, in a controversial operation, Imbert-Delonnes removed from Charles-François Delacroix, the French foreign minister.

The portrait itself, and the identity of the man portrayed, were discovered by the firm of Didier Aaron, from whom the drawing has been purchased by the Wellcome Library with the aid of grants from the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Art Fund.

In accordance with Imbert-Delonnes’s self-image, it shows him sitting in a lordly pose in a fashionable interior at the dawn of the Empire period. The drawing suggests a dark underside to the sitter; in his professional life he was a fearless and forceful surgeon who made his name in the French Army serving under Napoleon at the battle of Marengo (1800). The infamous operation on Delacroix proceeded despite the majority of his medical advisers counselling against touching the tumour, which weighed some 28 pounds!

The seemingly incongruous display of excised body-parts on a plinth in an elegant interior tells us much of the surgical elite of the time. And the sarcocele has its own subplot. Its unwilling owner Charles-François Delacroix was nominally the father of the painter Eugène Delacroix – though almost certainly not his biological father, owing to this very tumour. Eugène Delacroix's biological father was reputed to be Charles-François Delacroix's successor as French foreign minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, to whom Eugène bore a strong physical resemblance.

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