Plague Doctor Tattoo: Symbolism, Meanings & More

Plague Doctor Tattoo: Symbolism, Meanings & More

When one thinks of death and the 14th century at the same time, the plague doctor might come to mind. 

The plague doctor was a physician who treated patients throughout an epidemic that had bubonic plague. The doctor wore an all-black outfit and a mask that represented a black fierce-looking bird.

This image reflects what most people think of today when they hear the words plague doctor. Most people would think of death and darkness when thinking of the plague doctor. 

Fans of darkness and death are intrigued by the story of the plague doctor. Thus, some go as far as getting it tattooed onto their body.

Many people have their own perceptions of the plague doctor. Some see it as an interesting period in history and are fascinated by the expertise of the doctor and its costume.

Thus, these people may have a brighter and less scary version of the doctor tattooed on themselves. 

Whereas those who are into horror movies and are intrigued by death and darkness might have a more intense and darker version of the tattoo. 

Today, we are discussing everything you will want to know about its origins, symbolism meanings, and more.

The origins of the Plague Doctor

The plague doctor dates back to 1348, where Italian doctors wore the costume to treat those with bubonic plague. Their masks, which is the main feature of the doctor, were long and beak-like.

Within the beak were spices and herbs to reduce the risk of catching the plague through the air. Today, we know this is fictitious. 


What does it mean for a tattoo?

There are multiple symbolic meanings of the tattoo, which depend on a personal perception of the plague doctor.

Some make the tattoos dark and daring, while others make theirs more friendly with bright colours and fun elements. 

Not every tattoo is pure of the costume and mask. Some add their own elements to add deeper meaning, both serious and fun.


The mask of the costume resembles a crow. In mythology, crows represent death. Thus, this is why many see the plague doctor as a symbol of death. 

Furthermore, seeing as the doctor was to fight off a plague and prevent death, this deepens the connection between the doctor and the symbolism of death.



Alongside death, darkness is another common symbol of the plague doctor. The bubonic plague was a dark and scary condition to experience, which reflects dark times in history. 

Additionally, darkness is a common perception of the period in history due to the black dark clothing. 

A person that is intrigued by death and darkness will likely shade their tattoo with dark colours to enhance the symbol of darkness.


“Hair of the dog” theory

The “hair of the dog” theory is another close comparison and meaning behind the plague doctor tattoo. In simple terms, the hair of the dog means to become better than the issue. 

In most cases, the hair of the dog is to fight off a hangover. It involves having another alcoholic drink to combat the result of drinking too much alcohol.

The drink will counteract the hangover. In the case of the plague doctor, it means to become better and bigger than the cause of the bubonic plague, the bird. 

Plague doctor tattoo styles and meanings

Depending on your preference, you will likely choose a common tattoo design and style. The most common include:

American Traditional

The American traditional style is a popular choice as it represents the Dark Ages.

It is a popular choice for those who want to bring the darkness and gritty look of the plague doctor to your body. This design often lacks colour or is designed with dark colours.


New School

The New School design uses vibrant colours, which reflects a tattoo style for those who want to rid the plague doctor of darkness and see it as a cool and interesting moment in history.

This involves bright colours and thin linework to make it more lighthearted and less intimidating. 



Those with a hardcore passion for death and darkness will likely choose the horror style of the plague doctor tattoo. These are the most intense and scary in colour and design.

It is common to intertwine the plague doctor with your favourite horror movie. It often results in a chilling and intimating look to represent one of the darkest times in history.


Pop Culture

If you are intrigued by the moment in history and want to intertwine it with modern-day styles, you can. There are endless interpretations of the plague doctor.

It is common to make the design more colourful and less scary. You could opt for life-like designs or dot work. Whatever style of tattoo you like, you can make the plague doctor tattoo work.

Speaking of unique designs and being able to have any design you like for the plague doctor tattoo, you can enjoy a variety of colours. 

The most common colours for the tattoo are dark greys and blacks, to symbolise the death and darkness behind the costume.

However, if you wish to make it lighter and less terrifying, then you can use any colours you like. 

Common colours include primary colours such as yellow, blue, and red. These are vibrant and reduce the chilling appearance of the masked bird. 


Where should one put a plague doctor tattoo?

There is no specific location on the body to have the tattoo. The meaning will not change if you put it in a unique place.

It is common for the tattoo to be positioned on the arms, legs, or back. This ensures that there is plenty of space to satisfy your ideas. 

Opposingly, if you want a small plague doctor tattoo, you can add them to your feet, hands, wrists, or wherever you like them.

The Bottom Line

The plague doctor tattoo symbolises the costume worn by Italian doctors fighting the bubonic plague in the 1340s. Primarily, it represents death and darkness.

However, it can be seen in a lighthearted way and worn by those interested in this period of history and designed with bright colours and light line work.

For the most part, it symbolises death and darkness.


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