The Baker of Eeklo: Plastic Surgery Victims

These paintings of the mid-1500s depict a legend that was popular in Flanders (the Netherlands). It was most often told to the children, who were dissatisfied with their appearance.

According to the legend, the people who did not like their face went to the town of Eeklo where they could have a new head baked in the bakery for them.

To begin with, the head was cut off, and cabbage was attached in its place (the symbol of an empty head) to stop the bleeding.


Then the severed head was given to the masters, who re-sculpted the face from special flour and oil and put it in a large oven.

Then the old head with a new face was sewed in its proper place.


After Cornelis van Dalem, and Jan van Wechelen
The Baker of Eeklo
1530-1573 (Flanders)

However, the head could fail to bake, and then one could get an idiot. If the head was overbaked, there would be a reckless man, or “a hot head”.

Baking could fail to be quite symmetric, and then one would get a freak or a monster.


The children were told on purpose how unexpected the result of such a “replacement” of the head could be, as if the adults wanted to prevent the boom of plastic surgeries that was supposed to start a few centuries later.

Describing a certain type of a person, one can say “a cabbage head”. In fact, cosmetic surgeons say that the problems of those willing to change their appearance are most often in their head.

The whole painting:


After Cornelis van Dalem, and Jan van Wechelen
The Baker of Eeklo
ca 1530-1573 (Flanders)

Screens of the fragments:




The old legend turned out to be prophetic. When people voluntarily spoil their appearance, as in the photos below, one might ask a question, if everything is OK with their head.

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