"Physician Preparing an Elixir", Folio from a Materia Medica of Dioscorides

Object Name: Folio from an illustrated manuscript

Date: dated A.H. 621/ A.D. 1224

Geography: Attributed to Iraq or Northern Jazira, possibly Baghdad

Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper

Dimensions: Page: H. 13 1/16 in. (33.2 cm)
W. 9 3/4 in. (24.8 cm)
Mat size: H. 19 1/4 in. (48.9 cm)
W. 14 1/4 in. (36.2 cm)

Classification: Codices

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1913

Accession Number: 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 holds honey or oil.
While some miniatures that illustrate scientific texts closely follow their Byzantine prototypes that focus on botanical drawings, 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.