The Art of the Physician and the Surgeon, 1412

Morbid Anatomy has a fascinating post on De Arte Phisicali et de Cirurgica (The Art of the Physician and the Surgeon), an illuminated vellum scroll, 542 cm (17 feet 9 inches) by 36 cm (1 foot 2 inches). It is dated 1412 and resides in the National Library of Sweden.

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The manuscript is composed of six vellum skins sewn together. Morbid Anatomy guest writer Michael Sappol explains:

It features numerous painted color illustrations, along with a text written by John Arderne (1307-ca. 1390), a master surgeon who lived in Newark in the county of Nottingham, England. How it got to Sweden is a bit of a mystery, but experts believe that it traveled over the North Sea sometime in the 1420s, sent by King Henry IV of England to help his daughter, Princess Philippa. She had been married off to King Erik of Sweden in 1406 at the tender age of 12 (and died in 1430 at age 34 of a miscarriage).

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The text (in Latin) contains standard medical wisdom of its time: advice on diagnosis and how to treat various conditions in the form of a discussion of cases, along with helpful recipes. (A knowledge of astrology helps with all of this.) The scroll is also supplied with a large number of good-natured, even comical, illustrations. Mostly they show the usual diseases and problems (dysentery, dropsy, colic, pleurisy, belching, insomnia, bellyache) and the usual therapeutic methods (bleeding, cautery, purging and plastering). There are also pictures of surgical instruments, poisonous animals (watch out for toads!) and typical problems of delivering a baby.

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What has attracted the most attention from scholars, and even the public, are the scroll’s painted illustrations of the anatomized body, split open like a book or a butchered animal. These occupy the middle of the scroll, between the two main columns of text (which makes no comment on them), and are very rare for the period, really quite astonishing.

Incredible find, indeed!

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2 Responses to “The Art of the Physician and the Surgeon, 1412”

  1. I love the corpse holding open its rib cage. How nice and helpful of him!!

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