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Image 18

Preparing Medicine from Honey: Folio from a dispersed manuscript of an  Arabic translation of the Materia Medica of Dioscorides
Dated A.H. 621 / A.D. 1224
Calligrapher: 'Abdullah ibn al-Fadl
Iraq, Baghdad or northern Jazira
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper; 12 3/8 x 9 in. (31.4 x 22.9 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Cora Timken Burnett, 1956 (57.51.21)

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Medicine, Arabic, Iraq, calligraphy (naksh script), cultural exchange, ink

This page from a manual on the medicinal uses of herbs contains a recipe and an illustration of an imagined scene in the daily life of a thirteenth-century pharmacist. It comes from the Materia Medica, written by the Greek physican Dioscorides in the first century A.D.

This richly colored illustration is organized into six architectural frames. On the top row, starting at the left, a man in a turban drinks from a white cup. A group of large brown clay vessels occupies the middle frame; and a seated man stirs the contents of a large vessel on the right. In the lower central panel, a pharmacist mixes a liquid, probably a medicinal remedy, in a large cauldron with his right hand and holds a golden container in his left. Across from him, another figure, probably the patient, awaits his medicine. The Arabic text above and below the image is written in naskh script and describes a medicinal recipe.

Texts describing herbal medicine survive from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, and India. Copies of the Materia Medica continued to be made for centuries. It was one of the most popular and widely used medical texts in the Islamic world.

In thirteenth-century Baghdad, pharmacology was a family business; the secrets of the trade were passed down from father to son. Pharmacists relied on both family tradition and the many books on pharmacology available to physicians and apothecaries to make medicines that they sold in the marketplace.

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History