From the Republic of Letters to the Olympus: The Rise and Fall of Medical Humanism in 67 Portraits

Arnoud Silvester Quartus Visser

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In this article the first portrait book of physicians and philosophers, Joannes Sambucus' Veterum aliquot ac recentium medicorum philosophorumque Icones [...] (Antwerp: Christopher Plantin, 1574) is examined as a prism of the history of science and the culture of scholarship in the sixteenth century. It shows how the book was produced and what sort of information it presents, with particular attention to its antiquarian interest. Many of the portraits turn out to be based on the famous Dioscorides manuscript (Codex Vindobonensis) which had recently been brought to the imperial court in Vienna. In the appendix all portraits are listed with specific reference to those based on the Dioscorides manuscript. Furthermore, the social functions of the portrait collection are considered. It is shown how the book has to be set in the context of Sambucus' ambition to replace the successful Dioscorides editions by Pier Andrea Mattioli. For this project Sambucus needed support from his colleagues and patrons. The portrait book was a useful instrument for this strategy. In the end, however, bad timing thwarted the plans: by 1570 medical humanism was becoming more and more of an antiquarian enterprise itself.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLiving in Posterity: Essays in Honour of Bart Westerweel
EditorsJan Frans van Dijkhuizen
PublisherVeloren Publishers
Pages299 - 313
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • portrait
  • printed
  • veterum aliquot ac recentium medicorum philosophorumque icones
  • Sambucus
  • Plantin
  • antwerp
  • medicine
  • philosophy
  • dioscorides
  • scholarly community
  • medical humanism
  • hellenism
  • Antwerp


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