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The mirror of health: discovering medicine in the golden age of Islam

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Royal College of Physicians

An exhibition revealing the development of medical tradition in Europe and the Middle East from the collections of the Royal College of Physicians.

1 May to 25 October 2013

Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm (except bank holidays)

Free admission

The Royal College of Physicians holds a rare collection of Islamic medical manuscripts dating from the 13th century. This exhibition presents the newly researched collection for the first time and explores the medical traditions that developed in the heartland of Islam from the 9th century to the 17th century.

The story of Islamic medicine is one not only of transmission and translation, but also of innovation and change, evolving over the centuries into a truly sophisticated science. The Western medical tradition emerged in the 5th century BC, although earlier civilisations such as those of Ancient Egypt and the Ancient Near East also developed medical techniques.

Islamic medicine drew heavily on ancient Greek knowledge, especially humoral pathology, the exhibition opens with a display on the prominent Roman physician and philosopher, Galen (cAD 129–216), who classified the medical doctrine which states that the body's health depends on the balance of the four humours: black bile, yellow bile, blood and phlegm.

The show continues with an exploration of anatomy; at the time an unknown frontier, through to the influence of magic and divination on early clinicians and the exploration of alchemical tradition in order to develop new medical theories.

Throughout the Renaissance, Arabic learning was the dominant medical trend. It was during this period that the RCP was founded in 1518. The exhibition closes with a display celebrating the collectors and cataloguers of the RCP collections during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and charts the continued interest in Arabic medical traditions though to the 20th century.

Displayed alongside manuscripts and imagery dating from the 9th century, are objects and artefacts on loan by kind permission from the collections of the Science Museum, London, Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, The Bodleian Library, Oxford and Eton College, Windsor.

An exhibition catalogue will also be available from 13 May 2013.

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