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Laennec-type monaural stethoscope, France, 1851-1900

René Laennec (1781-1826) invented the stethoscope in 1816 as a diagnostic tool to listen to the heart and breathing in the human body. This stethoscope has three parts, possibly to make it easier to carry. Unlike many modern equivalents it was designed to be listened to through only a single ear so it does not have the familiar Y-shaped double earpiece. This example was owned by Dr Paul Gachet (1828-1919), a French physician specialising in mental health. Dr Gachet was consulted by many notable artists, including Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh lived in Gachet’s home in Auvers-sur Oise, France, for a few weeks from May 1890. He painted Gachet’s portrait in 1890 and was under Gachet’s treatment when he committed suicide in July of that year.

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Glossary: monaural stethoscope

An instrument used to listen to sounds produced by the human body.

Glossary: stethoscope

A device which is used to listen to sounds produced by the human body. Ordinarily a stethoscope consists of rubber tubing in the shape of a Y.