London is a great place to be for the curious and inquisitive. Public museums, galleries and libraries are homes to a vast collection of wonderful objects that mark the history of knowledge, aesthetics and creativity. Wellcome Collection, situated just in 10 minutes from the famous Madame Tussauds in Marylebone, is the biggest museum and library in London exploring science, health, medicine and art. One of their permanent exhibitions, Medicine Man, is dedicated to the founder of the museum, Sir Henry Wellcome (you can find out all about him from this video), and displays a collection of paintings – a record of the history of medicine in art.
A dissected pregnant female, 1764/5, Jacques-Fabien Gautier D’Agoty
This life-size oil painting came from a set of 12. The artist accompanied it with separate paintings of dissections of the uterus and infant.
A dissected man with a separate section of viscera, Jacques-Fabien Gautier D’Agoty
Another one from Jacques-Fabien, in case, if you’re wondering what your man is made of. Also, the artist is best known as a pioneer of three- and four-colour printing.
Ben Marshall, Daniel Lambert, weighing almost forty stone
Daniel Lambert was born the son of a Leicester gaoler in 1791. He claimed to drink only water and eat in moderation, but his size and weight increased enormously so that by the age of 36 he weighed over 50 stone. But he’d found a great way to turn his bulk to profit by exhibiting himself all over England and charging people a shilling to see him.
Luciano Nezzo, 1856, A tooth-drawer concealing the dental key from the patient
A visit to a dentist is not the most desired events in anyone’s calendar and things were only worse back in the days. This is an image of a young woman who’s about to get her tooth drawn. Unlucky for her, it had to be done with dental keys. These instruments were used since the 1700s until the twentieth century as a means to extract diseased teeth with no decent antibiotics or painkillers. They often caused jaw fractures and damage to the gums. Bearing this in mind, the only way to ensure the cooperation of the patient was to conceal the instrument from her.
Unknown artist, a birth scene
The painting was acquired in Stockholm, Sweden. But no record of any Swedish painter who drew such a scene was found. So it is presumed to be done by a French master.
Unknown artist, Sequah on Clapham Common
Human beings are congenitally prone to violence – our obsession with Game of Thrones and Walking Dead says it all. But before the existence of gory films and violent video games, public executions were a popular social gathering event. And so were the surgical procedures. This painting shows a sham doctor, known as ‘Sequah’, performing on Clapham Common. Dressed in a Native American costume, he proudly displays a tooth removed from a volunteer patient. Apparently, these performances occurred all over the country in the late nineteenth century and the ‘gig’ even had its own brass bands for audio effects.
Johan Joseph Horemans, Interior with a surgeon attending to a wound in a man’s side
Johan Joseph Horemans was a leading painter of the everyday life of commoners in Antwerp. This is a typical scene in a surgeon’s office. The man comes seeking treatment, and the surgeon takes charge of the case, while his apprentice, in a red jacket, starts the work on the manual treatment of the patient – much to the discomfort of the seated lady.
Ernest Board, Dioscorides describing the mandrake
Fans of Harry Potter must remember the scene from the second movie ‘Harry Potter and the Secret Chamber’ when Professor Sprout pulls out a squealing Mandrake from its pot during Herbology class. In real life, Mandrake is a plant related to deadly nightshade and has roots that resemble the male and female human form. This is a painting depicting Dioscorides, a Greek botanist, physician, and pharmacologist who practised during the 9th century, describing how wine made from mandrake could be used as a form of anaesthesia, deadening pain and inducing a sleepfulness in those injured or burnt.
Ugo Matania, A French underground hospital at Verdun
The Matania family from Naples were renowned for their documentary illustration in the first half of the twentieth century. Cousins Fortunino and Ugo were the leading illustrators of World War I scenes for the British newsmagazine, Sphere, where a reproduction of this painting was printed.
Unknown artist, A Pharmacy
This painting shows an eighteenth-century pharmacy, with the customary wooden furniture and porcelain drug jars stacked to the ceiling. The artist incorporated the traditional symbols associated with the pharmacy, the mortar and pestle used by the man on the right, and the scales shown on the table to the left.
William Cheselden giving an anatomical demonstration at the anatomy theatre of the Barber-Surgeon’s Company
William Cheselden was an influential eighteenth-century English surgeon, who helped to establish surgery as a respected medical discipline. Because, since Medieval times in northern Europe barber-surgeons functioned rather like general practitioners. They dealt practically with every condition that could be seen or felt: wounds, fractures, skin complaints and sexually transmitted diseases. Hence why the barbers in good ol’ England still have the sign with a pole with red and white stripes: red stands for artery blood, white – for a clean bandage. William disagreed with the Barber-Surgeons’ Company’s rules about dissection and eventually succeeded in separating the surgeons from the barbers.
Here is him using dissection to teach anatomy…on his dining table.
William Price of Llantrisant, in Druidic costume with goats
Dr. William Price was an eccentric physician and surgeon, litigant and Druid, vegetarian and Chartist. He was a practitioner of free love and opposed marriage, vaccination, vivisection, law, government and orthodox religion– basically, the earliest known hippie in England. In a way, he even looks like John Lennon. After the Chartist march on Newport in 1839, he fled to France dressed as a woman. He was best known for the introduction of cremation as a means of disposal of the dead in England and Wales, burning the body of his son Iesu Grist in 1894.
Find out more:
- If you are interested in medicine, you should read this article “The Most Beautiful Anatomical Theaters in Italy“.