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Grotesque and Gorgeous: 100,000 Art and Medicine Images Released for Open Use

by Allison Meier on January 21, 2014

William Cheselden, engraving showing the diseased part of a human skull. From "Osteographia, or the anatomy of the bones" (1733)

William Cheselden, engraving showing the diseased part of a human skull, from “Osteographia, or the anatomy of the bones” (1733) (via wellcomeimages.org)

The Wellcome Library in London announced this week that they’re releasing more than 100,000 high-resolution images online for Creative Commons use. While their digital resource joins those of other high-profile institutions like the Getty, the Wellcome’s archive is especially exciting because it contains unique collections relating to both art and medicine.

Earliest known herbal on papyrus (Egypt, ca. 400)

Earliest known herbal on papyrus (Egypt, c. 400) (via wellcomeimages.org)

Part of the Wellcome Collection, which is perhaps the most delightfully and smartly eclectic museum on Earth, the Wellcome Library houses objects and artworks that range across the spectrum of history, art, culture, and, above all, the curious. The thousands of images now online show manuscripts, etchings, paintings, photographs, advertisements, and artifacts. The earliest is a small scrap from what’s thought to be the oldest surviving herbal — a book on medicinal plants — on papyrus, from Ancient Egypt. There are also strange photographs of Salpêtrère Hospital’s hysteria and epilepsy patients, diagrams from Chinese traditional medicine, anatomical illustrations from all eras and all over the world, and even some small works by artists like van Gogh and Goya.

As Simon Chaplin, head of the Wellcome Library, stated:

Together the collection amounts to a dizzying visual record of centuries of human culture, and our attempts to understand our bodies, minds and health through art and observation. As a strong supporter of open access, we want to make sure these images can be used and enjoyed by anyone without restriction.

The most exciting part of scrolling through the seemingly endless images is finding the frequent fusions of art and medicine. From wax and ivory models that show early knowledge of anatomy, and an odd embrace of beauty in death, to surgeon Charles Bell’s visceral watercolors from the Waterloo battlefield, there’s an ongoing visual dialogue within the field of medicine. Below are a few highlights from this area of overlap in the collection, although you should flip through the images yourself, as this barely breaks the skin.

J.G. Salvage, "Anatomie du Galdiateur" (1812), illustration

J.G. Salvage, “Anatomie du Galdiateur” (1812), illustration (via wellcomeimages.org)

Magnus Hundt, diagram of a human head in a 1501 anthropology book

Magnus Hundt, diagram of a human head in a 1501 anthropology book (via wellcomeimages.org)

Charles Bell, watercolor of a soldier suffering from a head wound, one of the surgeon's depictions of wounded soldiers from the battle of Waterloo (1815)

Charles Bell, watercolor of a soldier suffering from a head wound, one of the surgeon’s many depictions of wounded soldiers from the battle of Waterloo (1815) (via wellcomeimages.org)

A Vanitas tableau in wax showing one side resembling Queen Elizabeth I, and the other a skull swarmed with insects and reptiles (18th century)

A vanitas tableau in wax, with one side resembling Queen Elizabeth I and the other, a skull swarming with insects and reptiles (18th century) (via wellcomeimages.org)

Diagram of a plague amulet. From Oswald Croll's "Bazilica chymica, et praxis chymiatricæ, or Royal and practical chymistry in three treatises" (1670)

Diagram of a plague amulet, from Oswald Croll’s “Bazilica chymica, et praxis chymiatricæ, or Royal and practical chymistry in three treatises” (1670) (via wellcomeimages.org)

The vivisector asked to choose between head and heart. Photogravure, 1886, after an etching by M.J. Holzapfl after a painting by Gabriel von Max (1883)

The vivisector asked to choose between head and heart: photogravure (1886), after an etching by M.J. Holzapfl after a painting by Gabriel von Max (via wellcomeimages.org)

Wang Weiyi, a woodblock illustration of traditional Chinese medicine from 1909 showing a middle-aged man with different anatomical channels

Wang Weiyi, woodblock illustration of traditional Chinese medicine showing a middle-aged man with different anatomical channels (1909) (via wellcomeimages.org)

A physicians handbook of practical medicine from Germany (16th century)

A physician’s handbook of practical medicine from Germany (16th century) (via wellcomeimages.org)

Bernardino Rossi's notebook of surgical lectures showing different dental instruments (1738)

Bernardino Rossi’s notebook of surgical lectures showing different dental instruments (1738) (via wellcomeimages.org)

Zhao Pei Qun, watercolor of a doctor feeling the pulse of a patient

Zhao Pei Qun, watercolor of a doctor feeling the pulse of a patient (via wellcomeimages.org)

A 19th century ivory netsuke figure made by Chikaaki in Japan showing a doctor feeling the pulse of a patient

An ivory netsuke figure made by Chikaaki in Japan showing a doctor feeling the pulse of a patient (19th century) (via wellcomeimages.org)

Designs for tattooing used in medicine from the Journal of Anthropology

Designs for tattooing used in medicine, from the Journal of Anthropology (via wellcomeimages.org)

James Dunthorne, a colored etching of fever represented as a beast with a blue monster on the left representing ague and a doctor on the right writing prescriptions (1788)

James Dunthorne, colored etching of fever represented as a beast, with blue monster on the left representing ague and doctor on the right writing prescriptions (1788) (via wellcomeimages.org)

A Tibetan chart for good and bad bloodletting days

A Tibetan chart for good and bad bloodletting days (via wellcomeimages.org)

A nun being treated for a lachrimal fistula, from a book compiled for the use of a House of the Franciscan Order in Germany (1675)

A nun being treated for a lacrimal fistula, from a book compiled for the use of a House of the Franciscan Order in Germany (1675) (via wellcomeimages.org)

Two Victorian ear trumpets, one dressed for mourning (19th century)

Two Victorian ear trumpets, one dressed for mourning (19th century) (via wellcomeimages.org)

Antoine de Favray, "Saints Cosmas and Damian dressing a chest wound," oil painting

Antoine de Favray, “Saints Cosmas and Damian dressing a chest wound,” oil painting (via wellcomeimages.org)

W.R. Seton, "A periscope being used above an operation which is projected onto a lantern screen for a lecture in the adjoining room," gouache painting

W.R. Seton, “A periscope being used above an operation which is projected onto a lantern screen for a lecture in the adjoining room,” gouache painting (via wellcomeimages.org)

Hand-colored woodcut of female anatomy from Alain de Matonniere's 1650 "Anatomie tresutile pour congnoistre les parties interieures de la femme"

Hand-colored woodcut of female anatomy from Alain de Matonniere’s 1650 “Anatomie tresutile pour congnoistre les parties interieures de la femme” (via wellcomeimages.org)

View more images of art, medicine, history, and culture at Wellcome Images.

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