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Terry Foreman  •  Link

'High-status' portrait of bearded woman bought by Wellcome Collection

Science and medical foundation identifies condition as rare congenital endocrine condition known as Ambras Syndrome

On 15 September 1657 the diarist John Evelyn had a conversation with an intelligent, cultured German woman, dressed in the height of fashion, who played beautifully to him on the harpsichord. She also had “a most prolix beard, & mustachios, with long locks of haire growing on the very middle of her nose, exactly like an Island Dog.”

The Wellcome Collection in London has acquired a remarkable portrait painted a few years before their meeting, which shows Barbara van Beck exactly as Evelyn described her: composed, dignified, wearing a beautiful and expensive low-cut grey silk dress, with a lace collar tied with a scarlet bow, and more ribbons in her hair which was, Evelyn wrote, “neatly dress’d … of a bright browne & fine as well dressed flax”.

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Samuel Pepys, Evelyn’s contemporary and friend, also met a bearded woman in London in 1668. Some historians believe it was the same person, but McShane thinks this was another woman with a different condition. The diarist described her as “a little plain woman, a Dane, her name Ursula Dyan, about 40 years old, her voice like a little girl’s, with a beard as much as any man I ever saw, as black almost and grizzly”. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/d...

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References

Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.

1668