Plague Doctor Tattoo

Plague Doctor Tattoos: Meanings, Tattoo Designs & Ideas

“The doctor is often more to be feared, than the disease.”

Plague Doctor Tattoos

Plague doctor tattoo designs are very popular among those with an interest in the dark and macabre.

As a popular figure in Gothic folklore, the plague doctor has become the go-to tattoo for those looking to add a mysterious and edgy tattoo to their collection.

From the immediately recognizable features of the plague doctor to the horror-esque visuals and intricate detail associated with the design, a plague doctor tattoo is a must-have for those looking to bring their love for the darker side of life to the forefront.

Plague Doctor costume

Today, we will be giving you all of the important information that you need to select the perfect plague doctor tattoo design for you.

From the history of this popular tattoo to some helpful tips that can help you plan your design with your tattoo artist, everything you’ll need to know can be found here.

Let’s get started!

  • What is a Plague Doctor Tattoo?

Plague doctor tattoos are inspired by the age of the Black Plague epidemic where doctors adorned bird masks and long, dark robes to see patients.

With death being everywhere during these times, no good was to come when a plague doctor was coming your way.

For this reason, plague doctor imagery has been widely associated with death and the fact that death is the one thing that nobody can avoid.

This makes plague doctor tattoos an especially popular design for those with a love for horror movies.

Plague Doctor mask
Plague Doctor mask from 17th century

The widely recognizable bird mask worn by plague doctors is creepy, yes, but there was actually an important reason for this design.

During the time of the Black Plague, doctors wore masks affixed with long beaks that were filled with herbs, perfumes, and spices that produced a pleasant smell in an effort to “filter out” the stench of death that filled the streets.

While medicinal knowledge and practices have advanced exponentially since this time, the horrific imagery of the plague doctor has stuck around.

This is evident in the increasing popularity of plague doctor tattoos.

Plague Doctor drawing
Plague Doctor Drawing (17th Century)

While plague doctor tattoos don’t vary widely in terms of design, there are many ways to make this design all your own.

The imagery associated with the plague doctor is dark and Gothic, yes, but many people have found ways to soften the view of the subject matter and make it less terrifying.

For those with an appreciation for what the plague doctor represents, more vibrant tattoo styles, such as the new school style, can be applied to this design to lighten things up.

At the same time, those wishing to bring out the grit of the subject matter may opt for a hyper-realistic style that brings the full terror of the plague doctor to life in their tattoo.

  • Why a Bird Mask?

The aromatics in a plague doctor’s mask make sense and were an innovative idea in a time when medical science was quite limited. But why was the plague doctor’s mask shaped like a bird?

It definitely had a stylized look, and it’s interesting to ask ourselves what the reason behind it is. Why, in a time when everyone was dying, were these people looking to make a fashion statement?

The answer lies in superstition. Science and spirituality were not always so diametrically opposed.

The black plague was rumored at the time to have been started by birds, so part of the idea behind the mask was a sort of “hair of the dog” theory.

You’ve caught a disease from a bird? Become the biggest bird there is.

Crows have always been a symbol of death. In some mythologies, they were thought to carry souls to the underworld.

With this in mind, the plague doctor was likely the only one present for a lot of people’s last moments. Being dressed as a crow would take on a special significance in that case.

Plague Doctor Tattoo Meaning

Generally speaking, the plague doctor tattoo meanings are:

  • Ephemerality of life
  • Mortality
  • Recovering from an illness
  • A tribute to medicine

What does the image of a plague doctor mean to you?

The first step in planning your plague doctor tattoo design is to consider the feelings elicited within you when you see a plague doctor.

If you’re like many, it’s likely that the sight of the long-beaked mask, dark robes and tall top hat inspire chills to run up and down your spine.

Use these feelings to identify the best plague doctor tattoo design for you.

If you’re a horror fan and want to make your tattoo as scary as possible, consider a more realistic tattoo style.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the imagery of the plague doctor may hold a special meaning to you that doesn’t include quite as much darkness.

If this is the case, consider a brighter tattoo style.

Many who get plague doctor tattoos choose to brighten up the subject matter with vivid use of color, although this is slightly less common.

Make your plague doctor tattoo design representative to you by considering what the subject matter means to you!

Plague Doctor Tattoo Styles

Now that you have all of the information that you need to choose the perfect plague doctor tattoo design for you, it’s time to do some research!

A huge step of planning for any tattoo is taking a look at various tattoo styles for inspiration.

  • American Traditional Plague Doctor Tattoos

Traditional plague doctor tattoos are by far the most popular choice.

This is because of the fact that the American traditional tattoo style best represents the gritty realism of the Dark Ages, bringing the horror of the plague doctor to life right on your body.

This particular plague doctor tattoo design typically consists of a lack of color with dark and grey ink and masterful shading.

With this design, you’re sure to inspire feelings of fear in all that pause to appreciate your tattoo.

American Traditional Plague Doctor Tattoo
  • Fine Line Tattoos
Fine Line Plague Doctor Tattoo
  • New School Plague Doctor Tattoos

The New School tattoo style makes for an interesting yet effective take on the plague doctor.

New School plague doctor tattoo design utilizes vibrant color, thick line work, and a cartoonish feel.

One of the defining characteristics of a plague doctor tattoo is the long-beaked mask and a new school tattoo style can fully define this feature.

Some of the most impressive new school style plague doctor tattoos bring a feeling of lighthearted fun to an otherwise intimidating subject.

If you’re the kind of person that laughs in the face of life’s darkest situations, this may be the plague doctor tattoo design for you.

New School Plague Doctor Tattoo
New School Plague Doctor Tattoo
New School Plague Doctor Tattoo
  • Illustrative Plague Doctor Tattoos
Illustrative Plague Doctor Tattoo
Illustrative Plague Doctor Tattoo
  • Neo-traditional Plague Doctor Tattoos
Neo-traditional Plague Doctor Tattoo
Neo-traditional Plague Doctor Tattoo
  • Black-work Plague Doctor Tattoos
Black-work Plague Doctor Tattoo
Black-work Plague Doctor Tattoo
  • Etching Plague Doctor Tattoos
Etching Plague Doctor Tattoo
Etching Plague Doctor Tattoo
  • Dot-work Plague Doctor Tattoos
Dot-work Plague Doctor Tattoo
Dot-work Plague Doctor Tattoo
  • Realistic Plague Doctor Tattoos
Realistic Plague Doctor Tattoo
Realistic Plague Doctor Tattoo
Realistic Plague Doctor Tattoo
  • Sketchy Plague Doctor Tattoos
Sketchy Plague Doctor Tattoo
Sketchy Plague Doctor Tattoo
  • Graphic Plague Doctor Tattoo
Graphic Plague Doctor Tattoo
  • Contemporary Plague Doctor Tattoos
Contemporary Plague Doctor Tattoo
Contemporary Plague Doctor Tattoo

Plague Doctor Tattoo Ideas

Regardless of whether you want an awe-inspiring, terrifying plague doctor tattoo design or a bright take on this menacing subject matter, there are plenty of places for your to gain inspiration.

Here are a few of our favorite plague doctor tattoo ideas!

  • Horror Plague Doctor Tattoos

Finally, one of our personal favorite plague doctor tattoo designs is the horror-inspired design.

This design is perfect for the most hardcore horror movie enthusiasts and makes a plague doctor tattoo a single component of a comprehensive piece of tattoo art.

Select a few of your favorite horror movie legends or imagery and work a plague doctor tattoo into the sleeve.

Your plague doctor tattoo is sure to stand apart from the pack as a chilling work of art representative of one of the darkest times in human history.

Horror Plague Doctor Tattoo
Horror Plague Doctor Tattoo
  • Black and Grey Plague Doctor Tattoos
Black and Grey Plague Doctor Tattoo
Black and Grey Plague Doctor Tattoo
Black and Grey Plague Doctor Tattoo
Black and Grey Plague Doctor Tattoo
  • Simple Plague Doctor Tattoos
Simple Plague Doctor Tattoo
Simple Plague Doctor Tattoo
  • Steampunk Plague Doctor Tattoos

Out of all the pop culture excitement around the plague doctor, a good percentage of that love comes from the steampunk community.

Steampunk is a pop culture movement born out of the Science Fiction genre.

A kind of speculative fiction, steampunk takes all things steam-powered from yesteryear and makes it modern and futuristic.

Think advanced technology with intricate layers of knobs and cogs.

People may tell stories of this retro-futuristic fantasy world through books, movies, anime, or even fashion choices.

But how did the plague doctor get all wrapped up in steampunk culture?

It’s likely the old-fashioned technology behind the idea.

The “what if” question.

What if this caught on, what if this really was the height of medical science?

What if all doctors looked like giant birds?

It’s a fun question to ask, and steampunk is nothing if not fun.

Steampunk Plague Doctor Tattoo
Steampunk Plague Doctor Tattoo
  • Gothic Plague Doctor Tattoos

A first cousin to steampunk plague doctor tattoo, there is also plenty of Gothic interest in the plague doctor.

It isn’t hard to see why. Firstly, the Goth scene is friendly with death.

Gothic people do not shy away from talking about the shadow side of life, and the plague doctor represents that in a big way.

The death toll for the black plague is said to have been 25 million people, so with that in mind, the plague doctor becomes something of a grim reaper character.

There’s also the loneliness of the plague doctor to consider.

Because of their association with death and disease, people typically avoided contact with plague doctors.

It had to have been a very difficult and isolating position to be in.

A vein that runs deep in the Gothic world is the idea of feeling outside of “normal” life and feeling misunderstood as a result of that.

Gothic Plague Doctor Tattoo
Gothic Plague Doctor Tattoo
Gothic Plague Doctor Tattoo
Gothic Plague Doctor Tattoo
  • Purple Plague Doctor Tattoos
Purple Plague Doctor Tattoo
Purple Plague Doctor Tattoo
Things to Consider before Getting A Plague Doctor Tattoo

If you’re interested in getting a plague doctor tattoo for yourself, you may feel unsure of where to start in planning your unique design.

As with any tattoo style, there are a number of ways that you can narrow your focus and choose the right plague doctor tattoo design for you.

Consider these factors when working alongside your tattoo artist to bring your vision of the perfect plague doctor tattoo to life.

Tattoo Color Scheme

As discussed, plague doctor tattoos are most commonly dark in color.

Many choose to use black and grey ink exclusively when it comes to their plague doctor tattoo design.

If you find that you prefer to stick more closely to tradition, plan your design around a more monochromatic color scheme.

At the same time, there’s no set rule that you have to follow tradition with your plague doctor tattoo.

If you want to add a pop of color to your tattoo design, don’t be afraid to do so.

You can opt between a New School tattoo design or a watercolor tattoo design.

There are a number of impressive plague doctor tattoos online that feature the use of vibrant colors.

These tattoos, while less common, are truly something special.

Work with your tattoo artist to create a design that is the perfect color based on your individual preferences.

Tattoo Size and Tattoo Placement

Plague doctor tattoos come in a variety of sizes and can be placed nearly anywhere on the body.

With so much freedom to place your new plague doctor tattoo anywhere you see fit, it may feel a bit overwhelming when selecting the perfect size and placement.

Due to the meaning associated with the plague doctor and the fact that this tattoo design is especially popular amongst horror fans, it isn’t uncommon to feature this work of art in a highly visible area.

Many choose to place their plague doctor tattoos on their upper arm, leg, or ribs.

These areas allow enough space for tattoo artists to add all of the necessary detail to make for an impressive work of art.

If you favor a slightly smaller plague doctor tattoo, there are still various options of placement at your disposal.

Smaller tattoos can be placed on a small portion of the arm, leg, or shoulder, for example, and can still be striking regardless of size.

Take size and placement into account when planning your plague doctor tattoo.

  • Small Plague Doctor Tattoos
Small Plague Doctor Tattoo
Small Plague Doctor Tattoo
Small Plague Doctor Tattoo
  • Plague Doctor Sleeve Tattoo
Plague Doctor Sleeve Tattoo
  • Plague Doctor Tattoo on the Forearm
Plague Doctor Forearm Tattoo

Tattoo Artist

Selecting a tattoo artist is an important part of planning any tattoo design.

When it comes to a plague doctor tattoo, it is vital that you choose a tattoo artist that can create a tattoo design that checks off all the boxes.

Consider the previous factors mentioned here when searching for a tattoo artist and book with an experienced artist that specializes in a style you appreciate.

Those looking to go the more traditional route and get a horrific, Gothic-inspired plague doctor tattoo design may want to seek out a tattoo artist that specializes in a more realistic style.

If a more whimsical, zany take on the plague doctor is more your style, try to find a tattoo artist with experience in styles like Neo-traditional tattoo or even American traditional tattoo.

When working with a tattoo artist that is skilled with the style you’re looking for, you’ll have a much easier time deciding on a plague doctor tattoo design that works for you.

How Much Will Your Plague Doctor Tattoo Cost?

Costs are an important thing to keep in mind when planning any tattoo.

If you’re wondering how much you should expect to pay for your plague doctor tattoo design, there are a few criteria to keep in mind.

Each of these factors plays a big role in determining the cost of a tattoo and when you have an understanding of how the cost is calculated, you’ll have an easier time getting the perfect plague doctor tattoo at the best possible price.

Your Tattoo Artist:

One of the biggest factors affecting the overall cost of your plague doctor tattoo is the artist.

When searching for a tattoo artist that specializes in a tattoo style that interests you, it is important to remember that artists with specializations are highly sought after.

If this is the case for your prospective artist, you should expect that they may charge slightly higher hourly rates.

How Long Your Tattoo Will Take to Complete:

Considering the fact that tattoo artists charge based on a set hourly rate, the amount of time that it will take to complete your plague doctor tattoo has everything to do with cost.

The size and placement of your tattoo can have a significant impact on how long you’ll be sitting for your tattoo.

The bigger the tattoo design, the longer it will take to complete, and as a result, the more expensive.

At the same time, tattoo placements known for being more painful, such as the ribs, may take more time to complete to allow time for breaks.

Take this into consideration when planning for a new tattoo.

The Location of Your Tattoo Shop:

Believe it or not, how much your plague doctor tattoo will cost can be affected by where your tattoo artist’s shop is located.

It’s a known fact that tattoo shops based in larger cities charge higher hourly rates than those located in less populated areas.

Select your tattoo artist with this in mind if cost is a big deciding factor for you.


Because of the plague doctor’s avant-garde look and concept, the look has been embraced by underground communities.

The plague doctor tattoo attracts anyone who is interested in underdog characters, twisted narratives, and disturbing aesthetics.

  • The Plague Doctor in Pop Culture

Trying to get ideas for your plague doctor tattoo?

There is no shortage of interpretations on this look in pop culture.

Take a look at these pop culture giants to get some inspiration:

Eyes Wide Shut: This psycho-sexual thriller, directed by Stanley Kubrick, features a plague doctor costume during an especially titillating scene.

Marty Scurll, a professional wrestler, dresses as a plague doctor when playing his villain character.

Plague Doctors are a popular character design in video games, from Assassin’s Creed II to Final Fantasy XIV.

  • BDSM

The plague doctor is a natural fit within the fetish community as well. The plague doctor outfit looks like some of the more exotic BDSM costumes out there, and the themes make sense with the type of play practitioners like to get into.

Someone with the plague would be in a vulnerable position, and the plague doctor’s job was to care for them while keeping them at a distance.

Something that, to someone playing pretend today, could be considered a very sensual experience!

The plague doctor used a cane to keep themselves at a distance from sick people, and also to lift bed sheets and other things they should not touch.

It is also said that if a sick person got too close, the plague doctor would use their cane to lash them!

This feels directly pulled out of a dominant/submissive fantasy scene.

Some theorize that the plague doctor actually did carry a whip. In this theory, the plague doctor punishes those who got the sickness.

There are people to this day who believe viral outbreaks are sent from God to weed out sinners.

This kind of sinner/punisher dynamic is also popular in BDSM role-play.

There’s also the mask to think about. Sensory deprivation can be huge in the BDSM community, and mask play is a big part of this.

For the submissive partner, it allows them to give up control, as they have no way of knowing what’s coming.

For the dominant player, a mask can be a way to fully feel the fantasy of their character.

Perhaps they’re expressing a side of themselves that doesn’t come out in their 9-5, and a mask can be the perfect way to separate those worlds.

Related posts:

What does a plague doctor tattoo mean?

Ephemerality of life
Recovering from an illness
A tribute to medicine