Medicine and Art

Emery, MarciaEmery, Alan

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction
Secondary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: History

Annotated by:
Lam, MD, Gretl
  • Date of entry: Mar-18-2015


Medicine and Art discusses the evolution of medicine and the changing role of the physician in society as depicted through art. The book is organized in rough chronological order, beginning with a copper statue of Imhotep of Egypt and a vessel featuring Hippocrates of Greece. Artworks depicting Ayurvedic, Tibetan, Persian, Chinese, North American Indian, and African medicine are also included, but the main focus of this book is Western medicine as portrayed in European and American paintings. These paintings take the reader through history, from nuns caring for the sick in the 1300s to quacks attracting gullible customers in the 1600s to the use of the stethoscope and the start of vaccination. The final artwork is a 2001 embroidery piece by Louise Riley depicting the link between patient and medical researcher.

The book features 53 images that are organized into 53 bi-fold layouts, with a written description and discussion of the artwork on the left hand page and an image of the artwork on the right hand page. These images are generously sized, taking up much of the page, and the vast majority are in color. Concise paragraphs explain the image by providing both medical and art historical context. 

Alan E.H. Emery and Marcia L.H. Emery are the husband and wife team who compiled this book. Alan E.H. Emery is a distinguished British neurologist, medical genetics researcher, and amateur oil painter. Marcia L.H. Emery
is a librarian and a psychologist.


This is an engaging overview of the history of Western medicine as depicted through Western art. In the introduction, the authors note that their main focus was art “which reflect[s] the physician’s role in society and the relationship between doctor and patient.” (p. ix) The book is indeed a successful reflection of this goal, but it is also more broad in scope. It provides the reader with general knowledge about key figures and events in medicine, describes some medical treatments, and includes quite a bit about the painters themselves.  

The most important strength of this book is its accessibility. The reader does not need to have prior knowledge of art history, medical history, or medicine to understand the passages or appreciate the artworks chosen. This is an excellent resource for readers who are seeking a concise yet fascinating introduction to the intersection between art history and medicine, which will whet their curiosity and serve as a launching point for further exploration. 


53 plates.
Several of the paintings featured in this book have been annotated elsewhere in the Database, including:
Doctor and Doll
The Quack 
Goya Attended by Arrieta 
The Doctor 
Death in the Sickroom 
Science and Charity 
Drug Store 


Royal Society of Medicine Press Ltd.

Place Published




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Secondary Source