16th century view of the brain

MS Hunter 364 Table 5

Special Collections have just lent a 16th century painting to the Wellcome Trust for an exhibition all about the Brain. The painting shows the human nervous system and is one of a set of 12 anatomical tables commissioned by the surgeon and author John Banister (c 1540-c 1610). 

Banister is reported to have attended Edward VI before going to France as a ‘surgeon to the forces’ during which time he successfully treated the Earl of Warwick from the effects of a poisoned bullet. In 1572, Banister was admitted to the Company of Barber Surgeons in London and in the following year was awarded a licence to practise medicine by the University of Oxford. His dual qualifications were unusual at a time of rivalry between surgeons and physicians and Banister did much to influence contemporary medical training, including the promotion of the latest anatomical texts from the Continent.   

MS Hunter 364 frontispiece

The first painting in the series shows Banister delivering an anatomical lecture at the Barber-Surgeons Hall and teaching from the second edition of  De re anatomica… (Paris, 1562) by Realdo Colombo, assistant to Andreas Vesalius at the University of Padua. A copy of this book, as well as works by Banister and this set of fascinating paintings were collected by William Hunter (1718-1783) who bequeathed his library to the University.

The Wellcome Trust have funded a number of Library projects relating to the history of medicine, including cataloguing of the papers of Guido Pontecorvo and preservation of the Thomson family/William Cullen papers. For more details about the exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London, 29 March-17 June, see Brains: the mind as matter.

Update (1 August 2012): this exhibition is now closed but we’ve just heard that it attracted over 100,000 visits during its run and was the busiest since the Wellcome Collection opened in 2007.

Categories: Library, Special Collections

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1 reply

  1. looks like a fascinating exhibit! too bad I don’t have time to cross the pond to attend.

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