This essay traces the visual cultures that emerged around Civil War soldiers’ pain and argues that the method of portraiture has much to offer the field of health humanities. It begins by tracing efforts to capture Civil War soldiers’ pain in both popular and clinical media before turning to hospital accounts by Louisa May Alcott and Walt Whitman that adopt the trope of portraiture in order to make soldiers’ suffering legible to a wider audience. This essay argues that these ekphrastic accounts make visible not only soldiers’ suffering but also the act of observing and interpreting it, and the essay concludes by suggesting that by bringing into focus the process of perceiving another’s pain, the study of portraiture offers an important complement to both the field of narrative medicine and health humanities approaches to studying visual art.

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