Thousands of years of visual culture made public
The Wellcome Trust Library, one of the world’s leading libraries on the human condition, has just released more than 100,000 images demonstrating thousands of years of culture and tradition throughout the world. The images, which include ancient maps, historical documents, medical manuscripts and other incredible visual treasures, have been made available under a Creative Commons Attribution licence, meaning they are free for the public to download and use as they wish.
"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. 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, Head of the Wellcome Library.
The collection offers a rich body of historical images including, among many others, a Persian horoscope for the 15th-century prince Iskandar (grandson of the Turkman Mongol conqueror), Tibetan medicinal recipes, ancient Chinese demon dolls, an historical map of the black death, and many more exquisite items. Here we highlight some of the incredible images that are now free to the public.
Islamic map of the world - the north is at the bottom, with the west to the right surrounded by unknown seas. The Indian Ocean, with the Red Sea, is on the left, with China, India and Iran in boxes to the right. The other sea shown is the Mediterranean, next to which is a black square indicating Rome and a circle Constantinople. The Nile flows from the Mediterranean to the east and into the north then turn east and head towards a large circle indicating its source in Africa. 18th century
Illustrations of Tibetan materia medica, plant and animal, used in the production of medicine. From 'A Selection of Substances used for the Production of Medicine based on the Teaching of the four (medical) Tantras
Game of Heaven and Hell (Jnana Bagi). This old Indian game, known to us as 'Snakes and Ladders', was originally a vehicle for teaching ethics. Each square has not only a number but a legend which comprises the names of various virtues and vices. The longest ladder reaches from square 17 'Compassionate Love' to 69 'The World of the Absolute'
Demons are transplanted from a sick person to straw images (replacment bodies) with zodiacal and human representations which are then burnt. China
Map showing the history and distribution of the black death around the world.
At present the site is running a little slow and there isn't much in the way of categorisation, meaning that browsing through the collection isn't a great experience, but the sheer variety of images available more than makes up for these niggling concerns.
Colin Jones, Fellow of the British Academy and Professor of History at Queen Mary University of London, says: "This announcement makes 2014 a happy new year indeed for anyone interested in what the past looked like. Focused on the history of health and healing, the Wellcome Images archive is in fact quite extraordinarily wide-ranging. It touches and illuminates almost every facet of human existence."
To view the collection, click here.
Featured Image: Horoscope of Prince Iskandar, grandson of Tamerlane, the Turkman Mongol conqueror. This horoscope shows the positions of the heavens at the moment of Iskandar's birth on 25th April 1384. Apart from being a horoscope, this manuscript is an exquisite work of art and an exemplary production of the royal kitabkhana 'publishing house' or 'workshop'. The manuscript is lavishly illustrated and reflects the efforts of a whole range of specialists: astronomers, illuminators, gilders, calligraphers and craftsmen, and specialists in paper-making.