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Abstract

There is a question whether rheumatoid arthritis is a disease of recent or ancient onset since it was only first described in 1800. In support of its earlier appearance are depictions of rheumatoid hands in Flemish paintings of the fifteenth through eighteenth centuries. The first description of juvenile arthritis is attributed to Cornil in 1864, making the question of its antiquity also pertinent. We show here that the “Portrait of a Youth,” painted in 1483 by the Florentine artist Sandro Botticelli, has features of rheumatoid arthritis in the hand of the subject, who would be young enough to be considered as having juvenile arthritis. A review of all of Botticelli's paintings revealed that these changes could not be attributed to stylistic traits. Neither could they be attributed to lack of technique, for he has been considered a superb artist. If the “Portrait of a Youth” does indeed represent juvenile arthritis, it would mean that this disease is older than its initial description would indicate.