Portrait of Gerhard Armauer Hansen from 1909 

Portrait of Hansen 1909. Photo: Bergen City Museum.

This photograph of an aging Armauer Hansen looking under the microscope is one of the most famous photos of him. The image was used on stamps and commemorative coins on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the leprosy bacillus in 1973. It is easy to imagine that this photograph was well planned, taken to show the famous scientist at his microscope, perhaps on the occasion of the Second International Conference on Leprosy in Bergen, which took place the same year the photograph is dated. 

However, the truth is quite different. The photograph was taken by chance, not at his own microscope, and without Hansen even being aware of it. The photograph was taken at the laboratory at the Coastal Hospital at Hagavik in Os outside Bergen, where Hansen regularly visited his friend and fellow doctor Herman Gade (1870–1953). 

Portrait of Hansen 1909, text at the back. Photo: Bergen City Museum.
The date and place have been written on the back of the photograph.
Photo: Bergen City Museum.

Gade was a tuberculosis doctor and was employed at Hagavik in 1898. In 1902, he moved there with his family. Gade’s daughter Anna Greve later recounted how Hansen would often visit them for several weeks at a time. He often sat in a leather chair in the library at the doctor’s home and read, but he also went on short walks and to the tuberculosis hospital. In a note written in 1961, Anne Greve explains how Hansen came to be immortalised at her father’s microscope over 50 years earlier:

Note from Anna Greve 1961. Photo: Bergen City Museum.
I can clearly remember this picture being taken.
Next to his office at the hospital, my father had a small laboratory. (At that time, he looked at all samples under the microscope himself). My father and I were in the office when Dr Armauer Hansen came in. He liked to go on short walks like that when he was staying with us. The door to the laboratory was open, and Armauer Hansen noticed that the microscope was set up with an object under the lens. ‘What do you have there, colleague?’ he asked. ‘Well, you should take a look,’ father said. ‘It will interest you.’ My father signalled to me, and as Armauer Hansen sat down to adjust the microscope, my father took out his camera. It was a fairly large camera that had to be set up on a stand. And father took his photograph without Armauer Hansen having a clue, deep in concentration with what he found.
My father was always very proud of this photograph.
Stamps 1973. Photo: Bergen City Museum.
This photograph was used in the design of stamps and commemorative coins released for the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the leprosy bacterium in 1973.
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