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|
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.