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Prujean collection

Sir Francis Prujean was an eminent London doctor who was president of the College of Physicians from 1650 to 1654. The RCP has a small group of objects associated with Prujean: a portrait by Robert Streater from 1662, a silver fluted dish engraved with the coats of arms of Sir Francis Prujean and his second wife, and Prujean’s chest of surgical instruments.

Sir Francis Prujean, PRCP 1650–4

Francis Prujean was the eldest son of the rector of Boothby in Lincolnshire. In 1613 he gained a scholarship to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge to study medicine, graduating in 1617. He went on to establish a highly successful career in medicine, becoming president of the RCP from 1650 to 1654. Prujean was knighted by Charles II in 1661 and credited with curing Queen Catherine of typhus in 1663.

He was also a cultured man of elegant tastes and a patron of the arts who played rare musical instruments. Prujean is mentioned in the diaries of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn.

Leading physicians in the 17th century were men of high social standing and wealth. Many, like Prujean, became cultivated patrons of the arts and learning. We can gain an insight into Prujean's tastes as a collector from John Evelyn’s diary entry for August, 1661:

I went to that famous Physitian Sir Fr: Prujean who showed me his Laboratorie, his other Workhouse for turning and other Mechanics, also many excellent Pictures, especially the Magdalen of Carrachio… He plaied to me likewise on the Polyphone, an instrument having something of the Harp, Lute, Theorb & c: it was a sweete Instrument, by none known in England… nor used but by this skillful & learned Doctor.

Samuel Pepys recorded Prujean's death in his diary in 1666:

I hear that Sir Francis Prujean is dead, after being married to a widow about a yeare or thereabouts. He died very rich, and had, for the last yeare, lived very handsomely, his lady bringing him to it. He was no great painstaker in person… was of a very great judgment, but hath writ nothing to leave his name to posterity.

Prujean was buried in Hornchurch, Essex with his first wife and son. His London home, near St Paul’s Cathedral, was just around the corner from the College’s home in Amen Corner. The street was later named Prujean Square in his honour, but was destroyed in World War II.

Portrait of Sir Francis Prujean

(c1662, acquired by the RCP in 1873)

Our portrait of Prujean was painted by Robert Streater around 1662. It was bought by the RCP in 1873 from the last direct descendant of Sir Francis. While the portrait doesn't show Prujean's profession, it does create an impression of his personality through his unusual and melancholy expression.

Robert Streater (1624–79) was a London artist who was known as a history painter and for his decorative schemes for interiors. He was appointed sergeant-painter by Charles II in 1660 and worked on the decoration of royal carriages and the queen’s barges. Streater died following a surgical operation for 'the stone' in 1679.

Prujean dish

(c1662, acquired by the RCP in 2005)

This magnificent silver fluted fruit dish is engraved with the coats of arms of Sir Francis Prujean and his second wife Dame Margaret Fleming. It is believed to have been a wedding gift as Sir Francis and Margaret were married in Westminster Abbey in 1664. The dish has the maker's mark 'AF', which may refer to the goldsmith Anthony Ficketts, who ran a busy London workshop.

Margaret was the widow of Sir Thomas Fleming of Stoneham and the daughter of Edward, Lord Gorges. The dish has Margaret's previous husband's coat of arms on the back, which is unusual, and shows that she was both exceedingly well connected and an heiress in her own right. The gift may also have celebrated the new couple’s recovery from illness - their marriage licence mentions that both had recently been dangerously ill.

The Prujean dish is exceptionally rare. It is one of the only two recorded examples of this type of sideboard dish in England. It was probably displayed in the dining room of the Prujeans' London home. As a status symbol, it shows us the taste of the rising professional classes which deliberately imitated the established landed gentry.

The dish was bought by the RCP in 2005 and is now on permanent display. The acquisition was made possible by a generous grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and donations from fellows and friends of the RCP.

Prujean chest

(17th century, acquired by the College in 1653)

The RCP also owns Prujean’s chest of surgical instruments. It is one of the most important collections of English seventeenth-century surgical instruments. The chest was presented to the College of Physicians by Prujean’s son, Thomas, in 1653 when he was admitted as a candidate of the College by his father.

It is not clear whether the chest belonged to Francis or Thomas, and whether these surgical instruments were actually used by either, or if it was given as part of the family’s collection. The chest holds two trays of intricately-shaped compartments lined with marbled paper. It originally held 104 instruments and has drop handles, suggesting that it had to be carried by two men.

It survived the Great Fire of London and the Blitz, but unfortunately it now only contains 52 objects, including instruments for obstetrics, gynaecology, lithotomy, trepanation, dental and bullet extraction and amputation.