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Page from a manuscript of Dioscorides' De Materia Medica


Height: 300.000 mm
Width: 242.000 mm

Bequeathed by Sir Bernard Eckstein, Bt.

ME OA 1934.10-13.01

Middle East

    Page from a manuscript of Dioscorides' De Materia Medica

    Possibly from Baghdad, Iraq
    AD 1224

    'A discussion between two doctors and a student' in a treatise on herbal medicine

    The scene takes place in a beautiful house. Two doctors sit on low couches, listening to the young apprentice seated on the floor between them. The book on the x-shaped bookstand beside the doctor on the left may be a medical handbook such as the one that this illustrates.

    Pedanius Dioscorides was a Roman army doctor in the first century AD. His treatise describes how to make medicine from up to five hundred plants, explaining where to find each plant, how to harvest it, how to prepare it as a drug, and which ailments it will cure. The book was translated into Arabic in the mid-ninth century at a famous translation institute in Baghdad, known as the House of Wisdom.

    The illustrations to early copies of herbal manuscripts took the form of simple diagrams of plants, but occasionally included a portrait of the author or patron at the beginning of the book. Other, more narrative, subjects began to appear, such as men harvesting herbs and roots, doctors concocting medicine in the pharmacy-workshop, and the patients being treated with the freshly prepared drug. A conversation between two doctors, or between the doctor and his young apprentice, was also a popular illustration in books on medicine.  

    R. Ettinghausen, Arab painting (Geneva, 1962)

    K. Weitzmann, 'The Greek sources of Islamic scientific illustrations' in Archaeologica Orientalia in me (, 1952), pp. 244-66


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