Medici non medici

The covers of two of this week’s journals feature works by Florentine artists who were patronised by the Medici family: Domenico Ghirlandaio and Michelangelo Buonarroti. Actually there are more artists at work on the BMJ cover, since the Sistine Chapel finger of God fell off the ceiling in the sixteenth century and was replaced by an unknown plasterer, and Malcolm Willett has added a tattoo of the BMA caduceus to Adam’s forearm.

Now the family name of the Medici obviously means doctors. Their patron saints were the physicians Cosmas and Damian, and some say that the red discs on their coat of arms are pills rather than balls. However, most scholars say that the name probably has nothing to do with our profession, which is a pity. No family has ever done so much for beauty and knowledge.

The BMJ contains a vignette from the declining years of the Medici dynasty in 1587, written by a group of Florentines including the delightfully named Donatella Lippi, professor of the history of medicine. It seems they were busy poisoning each other with arsenic.