Monday, February 11, 2013

The Hairy Man of the 16th century

I came across this image of Petrus Gonsalvus, a 16th century man with hypertrichosis (also called Ambras symdrome).  Hypertrichosis causes excessive hair growth on the face.  Informally, the condition is also called werewolf syndrome, because the condition causes a person to look similar to legendary depictions of werewolves.

In the mid-to-late 1500s, the Flemish miniaturist Joris Hoefnagel (1542-1600) “set out to capture the variety and perfection of the natural world on the folios of a miniature manuscript.” Above is his portrait of “the Hairy Man” Petrus Gonsalvus, with his wife.

 Some have wondered if people may have once thought people with the condition were actually werewolves.  But I have to wonder if that is true when taking Gonsalvus into consideration.  He lived at a time when many people were probably still superstitious about legends such as werewolves, so maybe people thought that someone with the condition was a werewolf based on their appearance?

Apparently not in Gonsalvus case.  He hobnobbed with royalty and even had a wife, who is painted in the picture with him above.  He also had children, who were said to have hypertrichosis as well.

Another image of Petrus Gonsalvus
This makes me wonder if someone with this condition had ever really been mistaken for a werewolf.  If this guy could get married and hobnob with royalty in the superstitious 16th century, perhaps people even then could tell the difference between a hairy man and a legendary werewolf.

On the other hand though, maybe we can't go by just this one example.  Just because this one guy managed to live a pretty normal life with a hairy face in the 16th century doesn't necessarily mean that anyone anywhere in the 16th century could have done the same.  Afterall, even among most of the population without the condition, some people managed to become royalty while others were peasants and some were outcasts.  Someone with the condition living somewhere else at a different time may have lived in different circumstances.  He could have been an outcast who became a depressed alcoholic and behaved like a madman.  Under those circumstances, people may have thought he was werewolf.

So has anyone with hypertrichosis ever really been mistaken for a werewolf?  We may never really know for sure.


  1. Actually, he was given to King Henry II as a wolf man, to be placed in his zoo. King Henry and his wife, Catherine de Medici, decided to educate him as a noble man, to see if it was possible, and after Henry's death she arranged for him to be married. Petrus and his wife had six children, the last four having the disease. All of the diseased children were given as gifts to other nobles, by the duke of Parma, who was considered the owner of Petrus. When Petrus died he was not given a Christian burial, most likely because they didn't consider him human, and therefore he had no soul. He was not "royalty" but was considered a noble man's pet, and so dressed an educated as nobility.

    1. you are correct given to Henrietta the second as a gift placed in a zoo then he married a buetifull women named Cathryn