Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters The Babinski sign in Renaissance paintings

The Babinski sign in Renaissance paintings: the fallacy of mis-framed observations

BMJ 2021; 372 doi: (Published 04 March 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:n574
  1. Brian Hurwitz, emeritus professor of medicine and the arts
  1. Centre for the Humanities and Health, King’s College London, London WC2B 6NR, UK
  1. brian.hurwitz{at}

In their paper on Renaissance paintings of the infant Christ,1 Sellal and Tatu equate dorsiflexed postures of the child’s great toe with Babinski signs. Joseph Babinski described a cutaneous reflex in adults in response to a nociceptive stimulus which he applied by “pricking” the plantar surface with a pin.23 Today, the stimulus is delivered to babies using a fingernail or other hard implement along the lateral …

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