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On My Mind
September 2016

Angelman Syndrome in the Portrait of a Child With a Drawing by Giovanni F. Caroto

Author Affiliations
  • 1Institute of Evolutionary Medicine, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 2University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy

Copyright 2016 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.

JAMA Pediatr. 2016;170(9):831. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.0581

The sudden theft of invaluable paintings from the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio (Verona, northern Italy) made the headlines in Italy and around the world, causing outrage in the public. On November 19, 2015, armed men stole 17 paintings by Tintoretto, Peter Paul Rubens, Jacopo Bellini, Andrea Mantegna, and many more, whose value, according to Italian newspaper La Repubblica, have been estimated between €10 and €15 million (US$11 and $17 million).1 Among the stolen ones, Portrait of a Child With a Drawing (featured in slide 7 in the slideshow in La Repubblica1) by Giovanni Francesco Caroto (ca. 1480-1555) stands out. This 1523 artwork is well known because of its artistic value and its paramount medical relevance; it had reminded the British pediatrician Harry Angelman (1915-1996) of some of his patients, who shared a certain similarity with the portrayed boy. This influenced Angelman to describe in 1965 the congenital condition, which would subsequently be named after him. The now-famous nickname puppet children given by him to individuals with the illness might well have originated from an erroneous translation of the word pupazzetto, whose primary meaning is “sketch” or “caricature,” rather than “puppet,” which is precisely the drawing the boy is holding in his hand.2

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