Advertisement for the 'Clérambourg' laxative
Colour lithograph by Jakil, 1930
Much of traditional western medicine is centred on the digestive
system. For centuries medical practice regarded the waste products
of digestion - urine and faeces - as the best indicators of what
was happening inside the body. Many of the medicines prescribed
were designed to promote digestion and evacuation. In the absence
of invasive diagnostic instruments such as the endoscope, doctors
reasoned by analogy between the digestive system and other systems
such as those concerned with the blood, nerves and sweat.
Inadequate evacuation was invoked as a cause of harmful or evil
humours in the blood (causing for example syphilis and gout), to be
counteracted by 'cleansing of the blood', through tonics,
laxatives, and other therapies.
This colour lithograph poster advertises a medicine designed to
clean the liver and blood and to free blockages in the intestine.
The organs of the body are depicted in terms derived from
19th-century industrial machinery: the nervous system is shown as
electrical wiring, the molars as mill-wheels, the lungs as bellows,
the heart as a vacuum-pump, the arms as mechanical armatures, etc.
The print shows the adaptability and persistence of ancient ideas
in medical thought.