Over their own gods and as such carried out

Over the past
century the art of tattoos and tattooing has emerged from the underbelly of
society and hit mainstream culture. Humanity has always been discovering ways
in which to express our ideals, our beliefs, and our values, or in certain
cases, a lack thereof, tattoos have been one of the prime approaches to this self-expression.


The origins of the
word ‘Tattoo’ seems to vary although most sources state that it comes from a
Tahitian word tatu which means ‘to mark something.’ Responsibility for the term
‘tattoo’ embarking on Europe falls to Captain James Cook after returning from
his first voyage on the Pacific in the 1700s. Amongst his travels he explored
the ancient art after first witnessing the practice in Tahiti.

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The western world
has adopted many perceptions on body art throughout the past century, our first
traceable relationship with tattoos dates back to at least the 5th-century BCE
where European tribes such as the Thracians, Picts, and Celts, used tattoos as
a mark of pride and heroism. “A fifth-century B.C. Greek vase (fig.1) depicts a
tattooed Thracian maenad, a female follower of the god Dionysus, killing the
musician Orpheus as punishment for abandoning Dionysus to worship the sun god,
Apollo.” The Thracian maenads were true followers of their god Dionysus much
like other tribes to their own gods and as such carried out barbaric acts to
strayers of their beliefs. This being the origin of Greece and Rome’s distaste
of tattoos. Herodotus, a Greek historian described the tribes as bloodthirsty
savages which adapted to a use of ‘decorating the flesh’ for punitive purposes
in Greek and Rome. They would forcibly mark slaves and prisoners of war with
derogatory symbols as a mark of shame. This perception on tattoos did not
change in the fall of the Roman Empire, in fact as the Christian church spread
across Europe the tattooing traditions were forbidden by Pope Hadrian the first
in 787 AD. This resulted in the ancient Pagan practices being forced into
hiding, resulting in the near extinction of Western tattoo culture. Though in
the years following, Pagans still believed that tattoos were signs of courage,
strength and wisdom and were often used as a rite of passage, marking a
person’s journey into adulthood. This is not too dissimilar to our modern
tradition, as the law in the UK states that you must be at the age of 18 to get
a tattoo. “…highest among those ages 18 to 29 (38 percent), leading the
researchers to conclude that “tattoos have become something of a trademark for
Millennials.” I believe that it is often to find those reaching the age of 18
getting their first tattoos shortly after this transition into adulthood,
because it gives us an enlightened sense of maturity, individuality and marks
this difficult journey were we leave childhood behind.


Many centuries
after the ancient attitudes discussed, tattoo culture returned to Europe in a
whole new light. This mostly began with the telling’s of Captain James Cook
who, even though, the idea of tattooing was still being repressed by the
Christian faith, spread tales of his adventures where he came across these mysterious
tribes who were wearers of these elaborate marks on the skin. These tales began
to intrigue and inspire people on his return to England. “emboldened by this
response, Cook returned from his second expedition in 1774 with a young man
from the Polynesian island of Raiatea in tow. Omai, real name Mai, stayed in
England for two years, and was exhibited to members of London’s high society
and featured heavily in the popular press, which devoted copious column inches
to the curious lines inked on the back of his hands.” With this, society’s
perception on body art once again changed and began to grow an increasing
fascination with the popularity amongst seamen who seemingly took direct
inspiration from the men who were upon Cooks voyage. Those of which, who had
gotten tattoos themselves amongst their expedition on the South Pacific Ocean
aboard the HMS Endeavour.


The first tattoo
studio was opened in America in 1870 by Martin Hildebrandt who was a soldier
known for his works tattooed on other soldiers and sailors, though at this time
the ink was often used as identification in case they were killed in action
since dog tags were not invented until 1906 and made mandatory in 1913, most
likely to appease the Christian faith as permanently inking one’s skin was still
frowned upon by the church of England. 
the passage Corinthians 6:19-20 read “Do you not know that your bodies
are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?
You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with
your bodies.”


Although, religion
could not suppress the tattoo culture that was becoming increasingly popular
especially when sideshow acts began to showcase people who had adorned their
bodies in ink. The most well-known circus actor being the daughter of Martin
Hildebrandt, Nora, who had three hundred sixty-five designs tattooed on her by
her father when they were captured by the ‘red skin devils.’ Martin had been
forced to tattoo his daughter head to foot by the Indian warriors as punishment
for allegedly trying to poison the tribe after he had spent sometime tattooing
the warriors in trade for their lives. “…during the tattooing. Nora went blind.
The story went on to say that her father broke his tattooing needle as an
excuse to stop the tattooing. Nora’s father was quickly seized and burned at
the stake.” Three weeks after the death of her father Nora was rescued by
General George Crook, a United States Army officer who was most known for his
time in the Indian Wars. During recovery she was approached by a circus owned
by Adam John Forepaugh who operated the ‘The Great Forepaugh Show.’ who opened
the pathway that would result in her famous career as ‘The Tattooed Lady.’ (fig.2)
Her legacy inspired circus acts through the 1900s such as Jean Furella Carroll,
a woman who ditched her act as the bearded lady and became heavily inked to be
part of the famed tattooed attraction phenomena (fig.3.) Nevertheless, the
views of society still segregated the circus ‘freaks’ and saw them as being
something less than human. Therefore, the interest in tattoos from this source
became limited. Fundamentally, tattoos were further intrinsically linked with
seafarers and the military because circus folk were vastly open to the
exploitation and ridicule from the public. The next peak of interest in the
artform occurred with the evolution of the tattoo equipment.


In 1876, Thomas
Edison created an electric stencil pen (fig.4) for reasons unknown. While the
pen never took off commercially, it was converted into a forerunner for Samual
O’Reilly’s invention of the first electric tattoo machine in 1891 (fig.5.) This
revolutionized the industry and gave way to some of the greatest advances in
tattoo history. The most notable being the partnership between Bill Jones and Charles
Wagner. Charles Wagner, most famous and most photographed and publicized tattoo
artist at the turn of the 20th century. He was the apprentice of Samual
O’Reilly, and made many advances to the practice. After the death of O’Reilly,
Wagner continued his work, including the operation of O’Reilly’s famed tattoo
parlor located at 11 Chatham Square in New York City. He was also a true
entrepreneur, he patented the first tattoo machine with coils in a vertical
position in line with the tube assembly. This was a major improvement on
machine design, most machines built today use this same alignment. Another of
Charlie’s endeavors was that he created his own supply business which paved way
for aspiring artists to learn the trade. Bill Jones was his associate and
friend; an accomplished tattoo artist in his own right and a skilled painter of
tattoo designs that would adorn the walls of tattoo parlours in colourful flash
sheets across America. However, his preferred area of creativity was the
construction of tattoo equipment. He took on the production of Wagners supply
business, this is where Jones began his reputation as one of the best tattoo
machine builders of all time. During this period of development, many artists gained
inspiration and found the means to engage in the practice, resulting in the birth
of British artist George Burchett’s famous career. He became a huge influence
on the evolution of body art in the late 1800s, his work appeared on the flesh
of circus performers, countless sailors of the Royal Navy. But, more
surprisingly on the bodies of European royalty as body art became a fleeting
trend in the nobility of European society. Burchett found that he was regularly
inking those of a higher status and built a client list full of European aristocracy.
In his autobiography ‘Memoirs Of A Tattooist’ he revealed that he had tattooed royalty
from all over the world, the most reputable being King Frederick IX of Denmark,
King Alfonso XIII of Spain and even British monarch,
George V. He gained a high level of respect amongst the nobles and began an unprecedented
trend on body art that swept through European high society. Although body art in
the early twentieth century