barrel organ "the dentist"


anonymous, end of the 19th century

142 x 183 x 71 cm

This example with moving figures is one of the most surprising street organs in the collection of the mim. It originated in southern Germany. At one time, it was known as 'the dentist', as the figures were interpreted as having to do with the drawing of teeth. During the nineteenth century, dentists offered their services at markets and in public places, and it was thought that the notably loud sound of the instrument ought to drown the bellowing of patients.

Looking at the depictions more closely, however, one can see that the patients are solely women and that they are being treated very cruelly. From left to right, we see one whose tongue is being ripped out, another whose mouth is being sewn up and yet another who is being shut up in a barrel. The women are portrayed as gossip-mongers and shrews, who must at all cost be made to keep silent. This is confirmed by the Negro king, who originally proffered the public a scallop shell bearing the tongue of a woman. The music-playing monkey underlines the mocking depiction of a market. In other words, this street organ was not played as accompaniment to the drawing of teeth, but served to provide popular entertainment at markets and on squares.

mim inv.3317
mim inv.3317, detail
mim inv.3317, detail