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Pewter barber's shaving bowl, France, 1638

Shaving bowls have a semicircular space for the customer to place his chin in to prevent the water and soap making a mess during a shave. There is some evidence that these bowls may have been used to catch blood during bloodletting. This process, which aimed to rebalance the patient’s humours and restore them to health, was believed to be a cure for a number of ailments. The French inscription painted around the rim translates as “Barber King of the Playhouse”. The bowl may have belonged to a barber attached to a theatre or whose business may have been located near a theatre.

Object number:

A43125

 

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    Glossary: humours

    The fluids of the body whose balance is essential to well-being. They are blood, choler (yellow bile), phlegm, and melancholy (black bile). The system of the humours was closely related to the theory of the elements by the Ancient Greeks (especially Hippocrates), who were the first society to widely embrace the theory and apply it to medical practice. In Ancient Roman culture, the theory of the humours was embraced by Galen. During the neo-classical revival in western culture, the theory of the humours was a dominant form of medical practice. Its legacy in the form of activities such as blood-letting continued in England into the eighteenth century.

    Glossary: shaving bowl

    Bowl used by barber or shaver,used either to collect blood from shaving cuts, or to rest razor during pauses in shaving.

    Glossary: bloodletting

    Puncturing a vein in order to withdraw blood. A popular medical practice for over two thousand years. Bloodletting often involved withdrawing large quantities of blood in the belief that this would cure or prevent many illnesses and diseases. The practice has been abandoned for all but a few very specific conditions.