Piercing is popular, but sometimes infection can set in. The artist Rembrandt may have had problems with a pierced ear, especially since he lived before the invention of antibiotics, according to British surgeon Ben Cohen. In many of his self-portraits, Rembrandt paints himself with a deformed left earlobe, and earrings were fashionable for men in the 17th century.

Cohen says, “In the portrait painted circa 1628, at the age of 22, the left lobule was occupied by a round swelling with a small bunch of what were apparently granulations at the upper edge. This swelling was also present in some later portraits but by about 1642 it had become a thickening.”

In later portraits, Rembrandt shows himself wearing an earring just below the swelling. Cohen thinks the first attempt to pierce the ear didn’t work and says, “Probably the lobule was so indurated that it could not be pierced again except below the infected area. He must have been a very determined man to risk further damage to the ear.”

People have loved to dress up throughout the ages.

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