Saints Cosmas and Damian practised medicine and surgery without payment according to their legend, and were therefore represented to the lay public as medical ideals. This painting shows one of the saints using a bullet extractor to remove a foreign body from a man's chest, and the other one assisting with prayer. On the table is a travelling case of surgical instruments with a lid that flips open, and to the right of it a round box partitioned to hold different ointments used in surgery.
The artist of this piece was French, studied in Italy and travelled to Turkey, but spent most of his long career in Malta. There he worked for the Knights of Malta (Knights Hospitallers, or Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem), and became a knight of the order himself. The order was a religious and charitable organization which concerned itself with hospitals for the sick and wounded, with defending the Christian Mediterranean against the Muslim Turks, and with magnificent adornments to the churches of Malta. The order maintained a large infirmary at Valletta consisting of 11 wards and a chapel. There were beds for 500 patients who dined off silver salvers served by the Knights. It is quite likely that Favray's painting originally hung in that infirmary.
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