Batsheba did not have breast cancer after all

January 10th 2013 – In December 2012, the paper

Monte Carlo simulations shed light on Bathsheba’s suspect breast written by researchers from BMPI was first published online on the website of the Journal of Biophotonics.

In 1654, Rembrandt van Rijn painted his famous Bathsheba, which depicts King David’s wife naked at her bath. The painting has been regarded as an icon for breast cancer since the 1980s, after two Australian surgeons had interpreted the blue mark on her breast as breast cancer and wrote an article about it. Now, with the help of computer simulations, researchers from BMPI have demonstrated that it is ‘highly unlikely’ that the blue mark on Bathsheba’s breast really was caused by the disease. Not that the information is really of any use to the patient: she died several centuries ago. The results of the research are published in the Journal of Biophotonics.

The publication of this paper got a lot of national attention. Amongst others, De Volkskrant en Trouw placed the news on their website and both the NRC and Tubantia placed an article about it in the printed weekend edition of the newspaper.

According to Srirang Manohar of BMPI, this research project was initially driven by curiosity, although it is also very relevant to another research project currently underway in the department. This project, under the leadership of Professor Wiendelt Steenbergen, is conducting research into, and developing techniques for, the medical application of light for the purpose of detecting cancer, among other things. The painting research project will enable us to understand complex light-tissue interactions that form the basis of optical applications in biology and health.

For more information and an animation of the work:

English version:

Dutch version: