World Digital Library launches with Wellcome treasures
20 April 2009
The World Digital Library is the brainchild of Dr James Billington, Librarian of Congress in Washington, DC, and it aims to promote international understanding and awareness of the world's rich and varied cultures. In partnership with more than 30 leading institutions around the world, the Library will hold digitised records of the finest items from every corner of the globe, including descriptions and information in seven different languages.
Among the artefacts in the archive are items from the Wellcome Library's internationally renowned collection of books, manuscripts, photographs and films relating to the history of medicine and its role in society. Wellcome Library is the only UK institution to contribute to the World Digital Library so far.
Frances Norton, Head of Wellcome Library, said: "We're delighted to be contributing some of our most significant texts and images from the history of medicine and science to the World Digital Library. It is a bold project to bring the world's cultural treasures together on one website for all to see and share in. Along with the items we've 'donated' are detailed descriptions, so visitors can delve deep into the stories behind the objects as well as look at them on screen.
"Health and illness are fundamental to every culture and as he travelled the globe, Henry Wellcome collected medical and anthropological artefacts with a curiosity bordering on obsession. As a result, the Wellcome Library has more than 750 000 books and journals, along with thousands of manuscripts, films and pictures. We look forward to sharing more items from our archives with the World Digital Library as it continues to grow."
Click through the gallery below to find out more about the items the Wellcome Library has 'donated' to the World Digital Library.
This copy has been ‘rubricated’ (highlighting in red chapter headings, paragraphs and important words) after it was printed. Also, some pictures have been hand coloured and an early owner made lots of notes.
It was previously owned by William Morris and as bought by Henry Wellcome in the sale ofMorris’s library at Sotheby’s in 1898 for £20.10s.
In this Spanish altarpiece they appear in a vision, dressed in the full finery of academic doctors as they perform the miracle of transplanting a leg. The vision is described in a medieval book called ‘The Golden Legend’, written by Jacobus de Voragine. The vision was received by a verger in the church of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Rome. The verger had a disease of the thigh, which was eating away his flesh like cancer or gangrene.
In his sleep he dreamt that the two saints came and cut off his bad limb and transplanted in its place the leg of a dead African who had just been buried in a nearby churchyard. When he awoke, he found that he had a healthy black thigh, and people discovered that the African’s body now lacked a thigh. The conclusion: “Then let us pray unto these holy martyrs to be our succour and help in all our hurts, wounds and sores, and that by their merits after this life we may come to everlasting bliss in heaven. Amen”.
The painting was probably once in the church of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Burgos in north Spain. The painter is called the Master of Los Balbases after a nearby town in which there is an altarpiece by him in the church of Saint Stephen. He worked with a better-known painter called Alonso de Sedano, to whom the Wellcome painting was once attributed.
Fuchs was professor of medicine at the University of Tübingen. Systematic botany has its origins in medical science, as the careful study of the qualities and species of plants was the foundation for pharmacy.
Fuchs’s aim was to reproduce each plant from life, and he stated in his dedicatory epistle that ‘a picture expresses things more surely and fixes them more deeply in the mind than the bare words of the text’. Each hand coloured illustration was therefore based upon the appearance of the living plant.
This copy was owned by an Englishman and if you look closely, you can see the word ‘poppy’ has been written underneath the German and Latin names.
This picture, showing an unnamed king who was so fat that he employed leeches to suck out his excess fat, was used by Boaistuau to illustrate a long chapter on notorious gluttons and drunkards.
Van Gogh, suffering from a form of mania, was producing one painting a day at that time. But with Gachet’s help, Van Gogh was able to draw this etched portrait for printing on Gachet’s printing press, probably after Sunday lunch at Gachet’s house on 15 June 1890.
Gachet’s moist-eyed portrayal reflects Van Gogh’s impression that Gachet was “sicker than I am”, but it could in turn suggest that the sitter was looking at the artist and contemplating Van Gogh’s lamentable mental state.
This impression of the print was bought by Henry Wellcome from Gachet’s son, Paul-Louis Gachet in 1927, together with many other items of Gachet personalia. The cat in the bottom margin is the stamp certifying the print’s provenance from Paul- Louis Gachet.
‘De Humani Corporis Fabrica’ (on the fabric of the human body), published in Basel in 1543, was a beautifully illustrated and influential anatomical textbook. Some of the most striking features of the illustrations are the ‘muscle men’ figures in striking poses surrounded by landscape. After publication of the book, Vesalius was appointed Imperial Physician to Emperor Charles V. He died in 1564.
The draughtsman was the artist Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), whose studies of anatomy are recorded by his earliest biographers Vasari (1550) and Condivi (1553). According to them, Michelangelo first dissected a cadaver in Florence around 1495 when he had been commissioned to sculpt a crucifix of wood for the church of Santo Spirito. The prior of the church gave him rooms in which he could, by dissection, learn how to render convincingly the muscles of the dying Christ. His last witnessed dissection occurred in Rome in 1548. He was not alone in such studies, but they were particularly apt as training for his typical subject matter, the muscular male nude in contorted action.
The drawing was presented to the Wellcome Library in 1980 in memory of Dr Robert Heller and Mrs Anne Heller.
Image shown with flaps down, without text.
He owed this achievement to his success as a pharmaceutical manufacturer and salesman. He trained as a pharmacist at Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, and in 1880 went to England to join his college friend Silas Mainville Burroughs in a new pharmaceutical company called Burroughs Wellcome & Co. After Burroughs died in 1895, Wellcome became sole owner of the company, and used his wealth to fund many charitable projects, including libraries, laboratories and museums.
His own historical collection forms the nucleus of the present Wellcome Library in London, and the Wellcome Building in London’s Euston Road was built by him in 1932 to display it. At his death, he bequeathed ownership of the pharmaceutical company to the Wellcome Trust, which owned it until 1986, after which the Trust gradually sold the company in order to diversify and stabilise its assets.
Henry Wellcome’s will formed the founding document of the Wellcome Trust.
This view of DNA only goes back to the inspired homemade metal model created by Francis Crick and James Watson back in 1953. Determined to solve the puzzle posed by the research evidence at the time, they required new insight - insight that was finally achieved by visualising the structure through a physical model.
This pencil sketch of DNA was made by Francis Crick around this time and forms part of the extensive Crick archive. It illustrates several structural features of the double helix: the fact that it is right-handed with the two strands running in opposite directions; the fact that the nucleotides, the building blocks of the strands, have a part that forms the backbone and a part (the base) that projects into the middle of the helix; and the fact that the internally projecting bases in one strand are aligned so they can pair with one from the opposite strand. This last feature is essential for DNA to be able to function in passing on the genetic information from generation to generation.
We can now only speculate as to whether this illustration came before or after the famous model, but it demonstrates the importance of simple illustrations in conceptualising and communicating complex problems.
By the later Middle Ages the influence of astrology on medical practice in Europe was ubiquitous. The constellations were thought to govern the health of various parts of the body. Astrology was also used as a means of prognosis, to predict the outcome of an illness.
The ‘bloodletting man’ is shown here in the centre ofa circle of constellations, with black lines connectingthe signs of the zodiac to parts of the body, and redlines linking the constellations, via the sun, moon and the five known planets, to particular bodily sites.
Bleeding a patient was a procedure that long outlived the theoretical basis for it provided by the classical model of a balance of humours. It was used to purge the body of excessive or poisonous fluids in order to restore or maintain a healthy equilibrium. Bloodletting was not a simple matter however, but as this image shows depended on consideration of several factors, from the source of the complaint to the conjunction of the stars. Clearly it was important for medieval doctors to know not only which star sign governed a particular organ but also when it was favourable or dangerous to undertake any particular medical procedure.