Plague doctors are commonly associated with the 14th Century epidemic, though there is no historical evidence to suggest that the grotesque healers had yet come into play.

Black and grey plague doctor and rose done by Luke Wasser at Sink or Swim Tattoos, Aurora.

Neo traditional smoking doctor and coffin done by Michela Zanni at Skin Cake Tattoo.

The believed inventor of the plague doctor uniform is Charles de l’Orme, the chief physician to Louis VIII. He created it in 1619, and it was used for over 100 years. The terrifying suit was made to look like a bird, with a long leather beak, thick goggles, a black leather coat over top a lighter leather shirt, black goat skin boots, leather gloves, and a black top hat also made of leather to indicate that the wearer was a doctor.

Muted colours in a neo traditional style done by Anderson Escaleira at Maza Tattoo.

Black work doctor with a candle done by Nate Kemr.

Plague doctors would stuff the end of the beak with herbs and spices such as mint, cloves, garlic, and myrrh to battle the noxious smells coming from the plague victims. Sometimes these herbs were set aflame so that the smoke would also protect the doctor. The smoke would then trickle out of the beak, making the doctor appear even more demonic and reaper-like.

American traditional doctor and flower done by Charlotte Louise at Lucky Cat Tattoo Parlour in Glasgow.

American traditional doctor and “memento more” done by Nicholas Chaney at Electric Chair Tattoo in South Wales.

Along with the uniform, many plague doctors would carry a long staff used for examining patients, as well as beating back some of the more aggressive ones. Some patients also believed they had been given the plague by God as some sort of punishment, and thus would occasionally ask the doctor to beat them with their canes as a form of repentance.

Gorgeous neo traditional half sleeve done by Francesco Garbuggino.

Hyper realistic doctor and cemetery done by Paul Vaughan at Rendition Tattoo Studio.

This suit was created because it was believed that the bubonic plague was spread through “foul air”, though in fact we now know that the plague was really spread through sharing bodily fluids, as well as pests such as rats and fleas.

Great contrast in the dark browns and blacks and red flowers. Done by Friedrich Uber.

Gruesome black and grey plague sleeve done by Róbert A Borbás.

The suit would have helped to protect the wearer from the plague to some degree, but not enough to stop the doctors from contracting the deadly sickness. This was in part due to air holes at the end of the beak, where bodily fluids such as blood and pus would enter when the doctor would perform bloodletting and lancing on the unfortunate victims (bursting the large pus-filled cysts).

American traditional plague doctor done by Gordie at Rebel Waltz Tattoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

American traditional style smoking doctor and rat done by Shawn Beatty at Soul Survivor Body Art in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Because the majority of these doctors were inexperienced or even completely unqualified, the treatments were often cruel and unusual, performed with no scientific or medical reasoning. Treatments included the fore mentioned bloodletting and lancing, covering the open and festering cysts with human excrement, and even pouring hot mercury on the cysts and then putting the patient into a large oven to burn the cysts off. These methods often just accelerated an already painful death.

Realistic black and grey doctor done by Jordan Croke at Second Skin Tattoo in Derby, UK.

Trash polka style doctor done in black and red by Thorant at The Scarlett Tattoo Studio in Bedford UK.

As a tattoo, plague doctors are often done in a heavy black work style (due to the nature of the uniform). They are also popular in realism, American traditional, neo traditional, and black and grey.

Horrifying black work bird/doctor done by Merry Morgan at Northgate Tattoo in Bath, Somerset.

Colourful neo traditional piece done by Tim Stafford Violet Crown Tattoo in Austin Texas.

Which morbid piece is your favourite?

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