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

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

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

Related material

Select images of this work were taken by the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum: WT/D/1/20/1/29/43


The lettering on each figure is transcribed as follows, with the aid of the lettering on the corresponding engravings by Larmessin where the painted ones are indistinct. The physician emits commands which are represented as thunder and lightening issuing from his mouth: Lauemens [clysters] ; Saignées [bloodletting] ; Ventouzes [cupping] ; Purgations [laxatives] ; Iuleps (juleps, similar to syrups) ; Emétiques [emetics]. His collar is formed by an open book inscribed: Auicenne [Avicenna]. On his right arm is a book inscribed: Hipocrate [Hippocrates]. On his left arm is a book inscribed: Galien [Galen]. Four horizontal bands around his tunic, where fur bands would be on academic dress, are lettered with the names of authors of scholarly books. On the topmost band, P. Æginette [Paul of Aegina] ; Rhasis [Rhazes]. On the second band, Auerrois [Averroes] ; Auenzoar [Avenzoar] ; Rabby Moyse [Moses Maimonides]. On the third band: Azaram [not identified] ; Rodoan [Ali ibn Riḍwān] ; Aliabbas [Haly Abbas, ʻAlī ibn al-ʻAbbās Majūsī] ; Musue [Mesue, Yūḥannā Ibn Māsawayh] ; Dyn [presumably an Arabic name including al-Dīn, not identified]. On the fourth and bottom band: Gordon [Bernard of Gordon] ; Arnaud [Arnold of Villanova] ; Joubert [presumably Laurent Joubert]. On the table on the left, items inscribed as follows: Urine graueleuse ; Urinal ; Bille Eschaufée; Ordonnance / Senné / Casse / Tamarin / Rheubarbe / Manne Inscriptions on the pharmaceutical equipment which forms the costume of the apothecary are as follows. On the alembic on his head: Alambic. On his chest, two bags inscribed Hle de lys [Huile de lys] and Hle de Laurier [Huile de Laurier]. On the jar forming is left arm, Vng. Rosatū [Unguentum rosatum]. Above the cup held in his left hand, Medecine. On two of the flasks forming his midriff, Ceral. and Vng. [Caeruleum unguentum]. Around his pelvis, five flasks of which the front one is lettered B. Raisin. On his left hip: H dambre [Huile d'ambre]. Of the mortars which make up his thighs, the one on the right thigh is inscribed Creme de tartre; the mortar on the left thigh is inscribed Scamonée. Of the small flasks which form his knees, the one in the centre of his right knee is inscribed Sirop de Mon; the one in the centre of his left knee is inscribed Sirop de Capillaire. His shins are formed of drug-jars inscribed Album Rasis (right shin) and Pōpholigos Inscriptions on the surgical equipment which forms the costume of the surgeon are as follows. On the instrument on his head: Eleuatoire po' la Teste. On his right arm: Bec de Corbin. On the instrument in his right hand: Miroir Matrical ou Uterin. On the trusses hanging round his right arm: Bandages pōr Rupt[ure]. On the instrument on his left shoulder: Dauiez. On the toothed forceps below that instrument: Tenette. On the tourniquets hanging from his left arm: Ligature. On the instrument in his left hand: Miroir po' la [Bouche]

References note

Roger-Armand Weigert, Inventaire du fonds français, graveurs du XVIIe siècle, Bibliothèque nationale, Département des estampes, tome sixième, Paris 1973, p. 557 no. 55 (Habit de médecin); p. 550, no. 12 (Habit d'apoticaire); p. 554, no. 15 (Habit de chirurgien)


Wellcome Collection 44562i

Creator/production credits

The individual figures were probably devised and engraved by Nicolas de Larmessin, ca. 1695. According to Weigert, loc. cit., the engravings are either posthumously published works by Nicolas de Larmessin II (1638?-1694) or, more probably, executed by his younger brother Nicolas de Larmessin III (c. 1645-1725). 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


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