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Personifications of medicine, pharmacy and surgery. Oil painting after (?) Nicolas de Larmessin II.

Larmessin, Nicolas de, II, 1638-1694.

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Credit: Personifications of medicine, pharmacy and surgery. Oil painting after (?) Nicolas de Larmessin II. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

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About this work


In the centre, raised on a dais, stands a physician representing Medicine. He wears academic dress, and his gown is composed of some of the ancient and mediaeval books in which traditional western medicine has been transmitted. They include works by the ancient Greek authors Hippocrates (5th-4th century BC) and Galen (AD 129-200); the Byzantine Paul of Aegina (AD 625-690?); the eastern mediaeval authors Avicenna (980-1037), Rhazes (Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn Zakarīyā Rāzī, 865?-925?), Avenzoar (ʻAbd al-Malik ibn Abī al-ʻAlāʼ Ibn Zuhr, d. 1162), Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), Haly Rodoan (ʻAli ibn Riḍwān, d. ca. 1068), Haly Abbas (ʻAlī ibn al-ʻAbbās Majūsī, 10th/11th cent.), and Mesue (Yūḥannā Ibn Māsawayh, d. 857 or 858); and the western mediaeval authors Bernard of Gordon (ca. 1260-ca. 1318), Arnold of Villanova (d. 1311), and the modern preserver of mediaeval knowledge Laurent Joubert (1529-1583). Elevated by his learning, which ranges over the whole spectrum of subjects relevant to medicine, the physician gives six instructions to the two subordinate figures whose qualifications cover a narrower range.The first three commands (clysters, bloodletting, cupping) are directions to the surgeon, the second three (laxatives, juleps, emetics) to the apothecary. On a table on the left are medical instruments: a vertical urine flask containing urine with sediment from a kidney or bladder stone; a horizontal urine flask; a bowl containing a steaming liquid; and a prescription ("Ordonnance") containing a list of plants (senna, cassia, tamarind, rhubarb, manna) to be used as a medicine or medicines. On his head he wears an academic beret on which sits an owl Below, on the left is the apothecary, composed of items of pharmaceutical equipment. His hat is an alembic or distilling flask. Bags of oil of lilies and oil of bay cover his chest. Various other ointments, creams and syrups form other parts of his body On the right is the surgeon, whose body is composed of surgical instruments. His hat is a cranial elevator (for removing pieces of bone when the skull has been fractured). In his right hand he holds a vaginal speculum, in his left an oral speculum. Trusses hang from his right forearm, tourniquets from his left. On his breasts he has shaving bowls. From his waist hang saws, knives and drills

Physical description

1 painting : oil on canvas ; canvas 141.5 x 124 cm


Wellcome Library no. 44562i

Creator/production credits

The individual figures were probably devised by the French engraver Nicolas de Larmessin, ca. 1695. The arrangement of the three figures in a single composition with an ornate colonnade open to a mountainous backdrop seems to be unique to this painting


  • French

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