The Art and Science of Healing: From Antiquity to the Renaissance

The Art and Science of Healing: From Antiquity to the RenaissanceThe Art and Science of Healing: From Antiquity to the Renaissance

About This Exhibit

This website is a slightly modified record of the exhibit about the early history of Western medicine held at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and the University of Michigan Library from February 10th through April 30th, 2017: The Art and Science of Healing: From Antiquity to the Renaissance. In brief, the exhibition explores twenty centuries of medical history as illustrated by a broad selection of papyri, medieval manuscripts, early printed books, and archaeological artifacts.

Traditionally, libraries mostly deal with textual objects, whereas museums are conceived as the repositories of the archaeological and artistic record. This exhibit, however, is an attempt to establish a dialog between the world of the library and that of the museum by exploring how medical texts, as transmitted throughout the centuries on different support materials (papyrus, parchment/vellum, and paper) and formats (scroll and codex), help us illuminate, contextualize, and even shape the meaning of three-dimensional artifacts.

The University of Michigan is one among very few locations in North America capable of hosting such an ambitious and broad project. The history of medicine collection, held in the University of Michigan’s Special Collections Library, is indeed an extraordinary gathering of rare books, consisting of more than 8,500 volumes, including a substantial number of holdings from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries. The collection had already acquired an international reputation by the first half of the twentieth century through the addition of two extraordinary libraries of rare medical books, respectively bequeathed by the famous bibliophile physicians Le Roy Crummer (1872–1934) and Lewis Stephen Pilcher (1845–1934). As the books presented here can attest, Dr. Crummer and Dr. Pilcher shared an interest in the transmission of Greek medicine in early printed books and particularly in the development of anatomy from the fifteenth century onward. Furthermore, this collection of rare medical books came with a wonderful surprise: an unassuming little box containing sixty-one ancient magical gemstones which, with a combination of magical spells and allusive images, were used, for example, to expel demons and obtain protection and treatment against particular ailments. Most of them had belonged to Campbell Bonner (1876–1954), an American scholar and Professor of Greek at the University of Michigan. Indeed, they were described as being his personal collection in his groundbreaking book, Studies in Magical Amulets, Chiefly Graeco-Egyptian (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1950). Moreover, it is not an exaggeration to state that these medical amulets became the initial inspiration for this exhibition.

The Curator

Dr. Pablo Alvarez came to the Special Collections Library at the University of Michigan in 2010 from the University of Rochester (N.Y.), where he was the Curator of Classics and of Rare Books, and taught in the fields of Classics and the History of the Book. As Outreach Librarian and Curator of Rare Books at the U-M’s Special Collections Library, his primary responsibility is to promote the use of manuscripts and early printed books (up to 1700) to the University community through research, teaching, and reader services.

Pablo received his Ph.D. in Classics from the University of Alberta, after obtaining an M.Sc. in Classics from the University of Edinburgh, and the Licenciatura in Classical Philology from the University of Seville. He has published on Andalusian poetry, the history of the book, and pedagogy in the use of rare books. Currently, he is completing the edition and translation of the seventeenth-century Spanish printer’s manual: Institucion y origen del arte de la imprenta, y reglas generales para los componedores by Alonso Víctor de Paredes (Madrid, 1680), to be published in 2017 by The Legacy Press. Pablo is also Editor of the new series Historia Typographica: Essays on the Art of Printing and Beyond, also to be published by The Legacy Press.


I am tremendously grateful to Carl Winberg (University of Michigan '70), whose generous donation funded the exhibit, in its physical and virtual versions, as well as the publication of the catalogue.

For many years now, I have been blessed with the support and expertise of Evyn Kropf, who graciously accepted to write the entries for the five Islamic medical manuscripts. My deep gratitude also goes to Cathleen A. Baker (The Legacy Press). Cathy enthusiastically undertook the task of editor, designer, and publisher of the catalogue. I am also grateful to many other wonderful colleagues who put all the pieces of the exhibit together. Scott Meier designed the physical display at the Kelsey; the online version was masterly designed by Julia Falkovitch-Khain. Greg Tucker and Shannon Ness did the recordings based on a selection of texts from the artifacts, and Robin Miller made the six enlarged reproductions of woodblocks and woodcuts based on six woodcuts from Andreas Vesalius’ Fabrica. Randal Stegmeyer supplied all the photographs for the catalogue and online exhibit, and Larry Wentzel made possible the logistics for the photographing of the artifacts, including those held at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. My thanks also go to Brendan Haug and Monica Tsuneishi for facilitating my work on the magical and medical papyri held at the Papyrology Collection.

Three years ago, I conceived the idea of organizing this major exhibition on the early history of Western medicine. I sincerely thank the director and staff of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology for accepting my proposal to include a substantial part of this display in the Kelsey Museum, including the opportunity to display a considerable selection of magical, religious, and medical artifacts. Their encouragement and expertise when curating and promoting the exhibit has been extremely valuable. Hence, my warm gratitude goes to Dr. Christopher Ratté, Dawn Johnson, Sebastián Encina, Scott Meier, Catherine Person, Sarah Mullersman, Julia Falkovitch-Khain, Lorene Sterner, Carrie Roberts, Suzanne Davis, and Michelle Fontenot.

As always, the staff of the Department of Preservation and Conservation at the University of Michigan Library has been vital to prepare the papyri, manuscripts, and printed books in both the Kelsey Museum and the Audubon Room of the Hatcher Library. In particular, I want to thank Shannon Zachary, Tom Hogarth, Marieka Kaye, and Brooke Adams. I also want to acknowledge my colleagues in the Special Collections Library, particularly the great help from Kristine Greive as well as the support of Martha Conway.

Finally, I wish to recognize a series of institutions that collaborated by loaning artifacts and granting permission to publish images of their holdings: the Bentley Historical Library (University of Michigan), the William L. Clements Library (University of Michigan), the Bayerrische Staatsbibliothek (Munich), the Wellcome Institute Library (London), and the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library (Duke University).

Pablo Alvarez, Exhibit Curator