Unknown 15th century

“Disease Woman” from the Wellcome Apocalypse

Reference Type:
c. 1420
This image of “disease woman” is one of nearly 300 drawings in the Apocalypse, a fifteenth-century manuscript featuring Latin and German texts on medicine, theology, science, and morality. At this time, the health care of women was becoming increasingly dominated by men, whose knowledge of the reproductive system was sorely lacking. The woman shown here is pregnant, which reflects the belief that pregnancy was a disability or illness. Her uterus is represented on her left side by an inverted flask shape that recalls twelfth- and thirteenth-century representations of the womb. Rather than include a fetus, the illustrator simply wrote “embrio” inside. Looking at the diagram, one may wonder how the baby would make his or her way out of the body. Above on the page are images of the uterus with fetuses in various positions. Around “disease woman” are listed additional ailments, a number of which are not related to gender. These include more serious problems, including diabetes and gout, along with less alarming conditions such as foul breath. There are a few other issues that did relate specifically to women, including something described as “closed” womb. Suggested remedies involved extracting substances from various animals and plants and mixing them with wine in order to induce menstruation. (The information in this text is based on an online article by Rachel Wertheim, a 2014 placement student at the Wellcome Library. For more details, please visit http://blog.wellcomelibrary.org/2015/12/the-disease-woman-of-the-wellcome-apocalypse/) Notes by Mariann Smith
History of Medicine
Women's Health
Wellcome Library, London