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Museum treasures

'Indigestion': 19th century punishment for a deadly sin

Gluttony, considered one of the seven deadly sins, was punishable by indigestion.

'Indigestion' caricature published 1825

Source: Museum of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society

This 19th century caricature personifies the experience of indigestion

The over-consumption of food and alcohol were popular subjects for caricaturists in the early 1800s.

In ‘Indigestion’, published 12 December 1825, an unshaven man, wearing a nightgown and slippers, sits facing the viewer in a bedroom. Obviously in discomfort, he holds his stomach with his hand, while being tormented by demons. The blue devil and other imaginary figures persecuting the subject were a device used by artists, notably George Cruikshank,  to highlight the patient’s condition.

‘Indigestion’ contains numerous references to over-indulgence during the festive period. Two tiny servants bring the patient more plates of food, while underneath the side table two watchmen arrest a drunk. Dinner invitations lay scattered the patient’s feet. On the side table is a plum pudding decorated with a sprig of holly. One demon tempts the patient with another slice of the pudding on a fork, while another pulls on a lever against his chest to ratchet up his heartburn and indigestion. Even the full moon seen through window disturbingly resembles a plum pudding.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20204075

Readers' comments (1)

  • While I agree gluttony and overeating is a man’s enemy, not only as to indigestion but to every other health issue( overfed rats fare worse than those given less than average food quantity), and while fasting heals, I do not see the man in the painting holding his stomach but his right lower chest. This nevertheless is an indication of perhaps referred pain from dyspepsia.

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  • 'Indigestion' caricature published 1825

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