The Hand

Updated: Mar 12, 2021

Completely in line with the image of Professor Schwab's conference room showing a black cubical object on the table, I was again struck by an image on Twitter. This time it was a portrait of Prof. dr. Diederik Gommers, the intensive care physician and chairman of the Dutch union for intensive care specialists. Early in the pandemic he popped up as television personality to shed light on his noble profession. A witty and welcome table guest at talk shows and discussion panels, capable to communicate with scientists, journalists, musicians and young photo models alike. He reached fame with his warning against the call for upscaling the hospitals ICU capacity, it could only lead to bored staff when there was too little to do, he said. Later that year regular health care had to be postponed to relief the pressure on the system, avoiding what they called the black scenario. His controversial remark had little repercussions by the way, because people are forgiving, especially when it involves idols and icons. The image shows him standing amidst a true forest of medical tools and monitoring screens, directly staring at the viewer.

For me the striking aspect however is his left hand position. I recognize this from a multitude of oil paintings in the numerous museums I was happy to visit over the years. As the Italian surgeon Davide Lazzeri writes in the US National library of Medicine: "during the Renaissance period, hands were as important a focus of attention as the face was, because they were the only other visible area of the body. Hence, representation of the position of the hands became a decorative element that was almost as important as the face". He further remarks, "there is a peculiar hand gesture that is widely used by painters of several nationalities belonging to the Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque and later artistic movements: It is an unnatural position of one or both hands in which the third and fourth digits are held tight together, as if almost fused, resembling syndactyly*, and the second and fifth fingers are separated from the central ones".

Watching these amazing paintings** one wonders if the recurrently depicted gesture provide clues about hidden symbolic or religious messages or maybe is this pose merely a matter of artistic convention and pictorial mastery? The actual intentions of the various artists cannot be confirmed in the absence of historical documentation. In the case of Diederik Gommers stout reenactment it could signify a secret code and message to the people in the know. But it could also be completely harmless like the black cube at the World Economic Forum table... sheer utter coincidence in combination with my overwrought spirit and visual focus.

In any case plans for a next machine or mechanical toy where already brewing in my mind and they became instantly unavoidable because I found a nice suède leather glove at the beach one morning. My ponderings started, how to design a specific mechanical solution for sligtly moving the pinky and index finger away from the joined middle and ring finger, with a handle, wheel, lever or something.

To be continued...