Iraq, Baghdad School
Colors and gold on paper
12.5 x 8.5 in. (31.8 x 21.6 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1913 (13.152.6)
Among the Greek scientific texts that appealed to the Arab translators and artists of Baghdad, a center for manuscript production in the thirteenth century, were herbals and bestiaries. They described the appearance, habitat, salient characteristics, and uses of various plants and animals, a tradition going back to late antiquity, but pictorially were more often influenced by the art of Byzantium. Particularly popular was the treatise of Dioscorides, a Greek physician working in the Roman army in Asia Minor during the first century A.D.
Deep in thought, shaded by trees, a physician stirs his medicine. In the center, a mixture is brewing in a cauldron that hangs from a tripod and is heated by the fire below. To the left, a large jug perhaps held honey or oil.
While some miniatures illustrating this scientific text on medicinal uses, principally of plants, rather closely follow their Byzantine prototypes, others, such as this example, reveal more of a human than scientific approach, as the doctor seems to ponder the formula he is mixing. The decorative trees help to contain as well as balance the composition. The lack of spatial depth combined with clarity of design, lively forms, and bold coloring are characteristic of this school of painting.