Artist and RA: NORM Board Member, Nancy Ellis and Peter Paul Rubens

As a child, my parents would show their five children great works of art and try to impart some sense of culture to our heathen souls. At that time, all the different artists names and styles ran together, but there was one man’s self-portrait that always made me smile: Peter Paul Rubens. There was something about this man’s countenance that I thought was amusing. He looked like he had just been caught doing something naughty and seemed to be dressed in what looked to me as his sister’s funny hand-me-down clothes (both things I could readily understand as a child). Little did I know he was a master of Baroque style of painting, and that one day I’d be writing about my childhood memory as part of my work.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was a Flemish born artist with a prolific painting career. By age 21, he was recognized as a Master, and went to Italy where he honed his skills under royal patronage. While Rubens was a devout Roman Catholic, his paintings were marked by a lusty exuberance and frenetic energy that was different from others at the time. He was also an accomplished diplomat and helped negotiate peace treaties on behalf of Spain with England and France.

Scholars have theorized that Rubens suffered in the last 30 years of his career from at a minimum osteoarthritis and most likely from rheumatoid arthritis. This diagnosis comes primarily from observing two sources. The first, a letter he wrote in 1608 where he complained his hands often seemed “paralyzed” at times. The second source is his own works. Many depict subjects with the classic swollen finger and wrist joints seen in rheumatoid arthritis patients. It is theorized that the inclusion of these features was more a “signature stroke” of Rubens’ as opposed to a realistic depiction of the subject. (An example of this is the portrait of Maria de ‘Medici, Queen of France. The puffiness at her wrists is an indication of swollen wrists.)

Today when I look at Rubens’ self-portrait, I still see glimpses of an impish gleam in his eye. However, I have gained enough culture in my life to appreciate the tremendous talent of the man and can marvel at the wondrous works of art he created.  I like to think, now, that maybe the impish gleam is a challenge to us – can we find his “hidden clues” in his painting that point to his rheumatoid arthritis?

Posted by
  • As a speaker at the first ad hoc meeting of rheumatology practice managers gathered in a single small room at its infancy a decade ago, I’m amazed to see how NORM has blossomed into a high energy organization of depth and professional meetings with parallel break-out symposia between plenary sessions. NORM has truly come of age. This is where the “business” of rheumatology gets learned. The ”guildmanship” for rheumatology practice management is now strong.- Paul H. Caldron, DO, FACP, FACR, MBA, Arizona Arthritis and Rheumatology Associates
  • In a time of demanding changes in the management of medical practices in the US, NORM has been a lifesaver to the community of Rheumatology practices.  NORM has allowed our practice to stay ahead of the many demands of CMS and others payors and has ensured that our practice remains cognizant of new issues that arise in HIPPA compliance, human resources and medical billing to name a few. Sending our Practice Manager to NORM's conferences has been cost-effective and beneficial to our practice because she returns to our office with an abundance of information that otherwise would have taken months to compile. Every Rheumatology practice that wishes to stay on top of emerging issues in practice management should consider sending a member of their staff to NORM's conference.- Michael S. Rosen M.D., Chester County Rheumatology PC
  • Thanks to all those wonderful people in the NORM Network who respond to emails, offering their advice, experience, time, and support ... I haven't even been a member a full year yet and I am amazed at the dedication of everyone who responds to helping via emails and the NORM Organization itself! I have barely had a chance to explore the resources and I have yet to really dive into requests for help still I am silently learning so much and do occasionally offer what I can! Thank you all!- Cheryl Piambino, Kenneth E. Bresky, DO

What We Offer

We’re adding value to practices across the nation by creating a thriving community of rheumatology managers and physicians.

Membership Benefits

Become a Member

Annual Conference

Conference Registration