Wellcome Library makes more than 100,000 images freely available in huge online gift

By Culture24 Reporter | 20 January 2014

More than 100,000 images from medical history have been made freely available online

A black and white etching showing a donkey wearing a physician's jacket taking a pulse
Francisco Goya y Lucientes, A donkey, representing Galinsoya, physician to the Queen of Spain, checks the pulse of a dying patient (circa 1797). Aquatint with etching© Wellcome Library, London
From the elaborate fly leaf horoscope of Prince Iskandar, in 14th century Iran, to an etching by Goya, representing the pulse-checking physician of the 18th century Queen of Spain in a new reincarnation as a donkey, the library of medical artefacts held by the Wellcome Trust has made more than 100,000 images from its vast archive freely available online.

Lauded as a “dizzying” record of history, all of the images will be directly downloadable from the Wellcome Images website, with users able to copy, edit and use each object under the Creative Commons Agreement. The oldest is a 2,000-year-old prescription from Egypt, found in 1904 and thought to be the earliest fragment of an illustrated herbal.

There is plenty to admire artistically. An etching by Vincent van Gogh, made in 1890, portrays Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, an exponent of complementary or alternative medicine described as a “maverick physician” with a consulting room in Paris.

Gachet only knew the artist for two months prior to his suicide, but the portrait was printed on his own press after Sunday lunch at the doctor’s house, sealed with his personal stamp – a cat – in a work which was later considered to reflect Van Gogh’s fragile mental state.

“As a strong supporter of open access, we want to make sure these images can be used and enjoyed by anyone without restriction,” said Simon Chaplin, the Head of the Wellcome Library.

"Together, the collection amounts to a dizzying visual record of centuries of human culture, and our attempts to understand our bodies, minds and health through art and observation.”

Colin Jones, a Fellow of the British Academy and Professor of History at Queen Mary University of London, called the archive “extraordinarily wide-ranging.”

“It touches and illuminates almost every facet of human existence,” he added.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A series of three rows of black and white images showing a man bending into shapes
Eadweard Muybridge and University of Pennsylvania, A man standing on his hands from a lying down position (1887). Photogravure after Eadweard Muybridge© Wellcome Library, London
An image of a colourful diagram showing the inner workings of the human anatomy
Paulo Mascagni, Illustration of human viscera (1823-1833)© Wellcome Library, London
An image of a black and white etching showing a 19th century man in a suit smoking
Vincent van Gogh, Paul Ferdinand Gachet (1890). Etching© Wellcome Library, London
An image of a fragment of a green and brown plant from Egypt
Johnson Papyrus, fragment of an illustrated herbal manuscript showing a plant possibly symphytum officinale, comfrey (published circa 400)© Wellcome Library, London
An image of an elaborate colourful sheet with a circular centre showing a horoscope
Imad al-Din Mahmud al-Kashi, Horoscope of Prince Iskandar, grandson of Tamerlane, the Turkman Mongol conqueror. From the book of the birth of Iskandar (European foliation, left to right)© Wellcome Library, London
An image of a colourful cartoon showing people crowding around someone who has fainted
Robert Cruikshank, A Dandy Fainting (1818). Coloured etching© Wellcome Library, London
An image of a drawing showing a person's upper torso anatomy surrounded by writing
Alain de Matonniere Paris, Anatomie tresutile pour congnoistre les parties interieures de la femme (published circa 1560). Hand-coloured woodcut© Wellcome Library, London
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What an amazing resource. The Wellcome does such interesting work and makes it all so accessible. Thank you
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