© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Translations into Arabic of scientific and philosophical treatises from the Greco-Roman world laid a critical foundation for the advances made by Muslim physicians, scientists, and mathematicians. De materia medica, on the therapeutic properties of natural substances — plants, minerals, and animals — was written about two thousand years ago by the Greek author Dioscorides. Widely translated, emended, and supplemented, the text served as the basis for writing on pharmaceuticals and herbs until the end of the sixteenth century in Byzantium, western Europe, and the Middle East.

The manuscript from which these folios come has attracted considerable scholarly attention for its inclusion of animal and human figures. Although extraneous to the text, the figures provide a view of medieval Muslims in the last decades of the Abbasid caliphate. On one page, the plant Kestron (betony) is flanked by two men — presumably a physician wearing a hooded cloak and his youthful companion shouldering a spear. The text advises on ways to prepare the plant for use as an emetic, purgative, or antidote. On the other page, two birds create a symmetrical composition on the leaves of the plant Verbascum (mullein), which, properly concocted, soothes coughs, toothaches, eye inflammations, and ulcers.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Verbascum Plants (painting with text, recto and verso), illustrated folio from a manuscript of the De Materia Medica of Dioscorides
Other Titles
Series/Book Title: De Materia Medica
Work Type
manuscript folio
Creation Place: Middle East, Iraq, Baghdad?
Abbasid period
Physical Descriptions
Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper
folio: 33 x 24 cm (13 x 9 7/16 in.)
Meta and Paul J. Sachs, Bequest of Meta and Paul J. Sachs. old notes also have name of F.R. Martin
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Meta and Paul J. Sachs
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Publication History

Laurence Binyon and J. V. S. Wilkinson, Persian Miniature Painting: Including a Critical and Descriptive Catalogue of the Miniatures Exhibited at Burlington House, January-March, 1931, exh. cat., Oxford University Press (NY) and Oxford University Press (UK) (London, England, 1933), p. 27, no. 14d

M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, Exhibition of Islamic Art, exh. cat. (San Francisco, 1937), p. 26, no. 22d

Wilson Bishai, Humanities in the Arabic-Islamic World, W.C. Brown Co. (Dubuque, Iowa, 1973), Pg. 102

Marianna Shreve Simpson, Arab and Persian Painting in the Fogg Art Museum, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1980), pp. 9, 11, 15, 18-19, no. 2, ill.

Roche Products on the Market, brochure, F.Hoffman-La Roche & Co. (Cairo, November 1981)

Exhibition History

Arab and Persian Painting, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 02/10/1981 - 03/09/1981

Diverse are their Hues: Animals in Islamic Art, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 12/18/1984 - 02/09/1985

Islamic Art: The Power of Pattern, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 09/23/1989 - 01/17/1990

Paintings for Princes: The Art of the Book in Islam, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/27/1990 - 03/25/1990

32Q: 2550 Islamic, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014 - 05/14/2015

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu