Medical History

Historical and Cultural Aspects

The breasts, unlike most other organs, have been a visible structure ever since the birth and evolution of the mammal. Although they have run the gamut of religious, psychological, and erotic environments in history, the study of its internal structure seems to have arrived relatively late.

The breast was viewed as sacred (especially pre-1400), erotic (Renaissance and thereafter), political (French Revolution), psychological (as in Freud’s obsession), and medical (including breast cancer and cosmetic surgery).

Witcombe a professor of art history at Sweet Briar College in Virginia explored the art and culture of the female figure in ancient civilizations. An electronic version of the work is available (Witcombe).  Venus of Willendorf is probably the oldest figurine originating from the stone age (25000BC) The sculpture was found by Josef Szombathy in 1908 in Austria.  She is believed to represent a goddess and is characterized by large breasts, abdomen, buttock and pubic area.



Venus of Willendorf is a figurine from 25,000 BC one of the earliest sculptures of the female form.  She is believed to have represented a goddess and is characterised (Witcombe image)

A figure with similar proportions The Venus of Lespugue, c. 30,000 BCE is also considered a deity and may even predate Venus of Willendorf.




The Venus of Lespugue, has a similar morphology to Willendorf with large breast and buttocks and may predate Venus of Willendorf  c. 30,000 BCE (Mazzola)
(Campbell, 1959, p. 326)

The Goddess of snakes from the Minoan culture in Crete (1600 BCE) is also felt to be a deity with implications of fertility and is characterized by the presence of a snake in both hands and two large protruding breasts.


The Goddess of snakes is a well known deity from the Minoan culture of Create from around 1600BCE.  (Witcombe image)


Vesalius’s drawings of anatomy in “De Corporis Humani Fabrica” of 1543 reveal one of the earliest interests in the internal structure. Da Vinci on the other hand, who demonstrated such in depth probing of the anatomy, has no established drawings of the dissected breast.


Drawing by Vesalius (1514-1564) one of the earliest drawings revealing an

interest in the internal structure of the breast From De Corporis Humani Fabrica  of 1543