More than 100,000 images from medical history have been made freely available online
Lauded as a “dizzying” record of history, all of the images will be directly downloadable from the Wellcome Images website, with users able to copy, edit and use each object under the Creative Commons Agreement. The oldest is a 2,000-year-old prescription from Egypt, found in 1904 and thought to be the earliest fragment of an illustrated herbal.
There is plenty to admire artistically. An etching by Vincent van Gogh, made in 1890, portrays Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, an exponent of complementary or alternative medicine described as a “maverick physician” with a consulting room in Paris.
Gachet only knew the artist for two months prior to his suicide, but the portrait was printed on his own press after Sunday lunch at the doctor’s house, sealed with his personal stamp – a cat – in a work which was later considered to reflect Van Gogh’s fragile mental state.
“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, the Head of the Wellcome Library.
"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.”
Colin Jones, a Fellow of the British Academy and Professor of History at Queen Mary University of London, called the archive “extraordinarily wide-ranging.”
“It touches and illuminates almost every facet of human existence,” he added.