Board, Ernest (British, 1877-1934)

Albucasis (Al-Zahrawi) Blistering a Patient in the Hospital at Cordova, 1100 AD

Reference Type:
c. 1912
This image is one of a series of works Sir Henry Wellcome commissioned of important developments and physicians in the history of medicine. The title of the painting is confusing, however, since Abu al-Qasim Khalaf ibn al-Abbas Al-Zahrawi (known in Europe as Albucasis) died in 1013. Al-Zahrawi was born near Cordoba, Spain in 936 during the time of Islamic Moorish rule. He was a famous surgeon, physician, and chemist, and served for a time as court physician to Moorish King Al-Hakam II. He is best known for his encyclopedia of medicine, Al-Tasrif li man ajaz an-il-talif (An Aid for Those Who Lack the Capacity to Read Big Books), the surgery section of which became a standard text in European medical studies until the eighteenth century. In addition to the description of surgical procedures and instruments—many of which Albucasis invented himself—chapters included information about medicine, pharmacology, orthopedics, ophthalmology, and nutrition. Al-Zahrawi explained his goals for the Al-Tasrif, which was published around the year 1000: “Whatever I know, I owe solely to my assiduous reading of books of the ancients, to my desire to understand them and to appropriate this science; then I have added the observation and experience of my whole life.” (Quote from: In this painting, with the sunlit city of Cordoba outside the windows, Al-Zahrawi demonstrates to two students the process of blistering a patient, which involved creating burns or blisters on the skin that would then cause infection. The pus that subsequently drained was thought to be beneficial. Notes by Mariann Smith
History of Medicine
Wellcome Library, London