Skip Navigation Bar

NLM Lends Rare Books to New York University's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is pleased to have eleven items from its early manuscript collection included in a new exhibition, Romance and Reason: Islamic Transformations of the Classical Past, which runs February 14, 2018 through May 13, 2018 at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW).

This is the largest and most significant loan of collection material by NLM to a cultural institution for exhibition.

Romance and Reason brings together an exceptional group of rare manuscripts that testify to the fertile relationship between medieval Islam and the classical world. With material ranging from lavishly—and superbly—illuminated romances, to eye-opening medical and scientific treatises, the exhibition provides an engrossing visual record of how, over the course of centuries, scholars, scientists, doctors, artists, and others in the Islamic world transformed Ancient Greek material for their own day. As the Institute explains on its exhibition website, “The story of antiquity reads as an endless cycle of expansion, conflict, and conquest. Yet despite the divisions that existed among peoples and nations, the exchange and appropriation of ideas, images, and heroic figures across cultures knew no boundaries, with the Classical World retaining a particular appeal across countries and beliefs.”

Among the NLM collection items featured in Romance and Reason are: The Comprehensive Book on Medicine (Al­Kitab al-hawi fi al-tibb), a treatise by Abu Bakr Razi that is dated to 1094 and is the oldest book in the NLM collection (NLM Catalog record; view PDF); a 15th century copy of Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine (Al-qanun fi al-tibb) with exquisite gold page decorations (NLM Catalog record; view PDF); two variants of Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing ('Aja'ib al­makhluqat wa ghara'ib al-mawjudat) by Zakariya ibn Muhammad Qazwini with charming hand-painted pictures of real and imaginary beasts (NLM Catalog record; view PDF); and two variants of Mansur ibn Ilyas’s Anatomy (Tashrih-i mansuri) from the late 15th–early 16th century, that represent some of the earliest illustrated anatomical works from the Islamic world (NLM Catalog record; view PDF).

Additional items included in the loan are:

The Concise Book (Kitab al-mujiz) (NLM Catalog record; view PDF)
Author: Ibn al-Nafis al-Qurashi? (d. 1288)
Copyist: Ibrahim al-Husayni al-Nurbakhshi (ca. 1600s?)

The Key to the Mujiz of Ibn al-Nafis (Hall al-mujiz) (NLM Catalog record; view PDF)
Author: Jamal al-Din Muhammad ibn Muhammad Aqsaraʿi (d. 1379)
Copyist: ʿAli ibn Muʿin ibn Ahmad (dated 1407)

Commentary on the Hippocratic Treatise On the Nature of Man (Sharh kitab tabiʿat al-insan li-Buqrat) (NLM Catalog record; view PDF)
Author: Ibn al-Nafis al-Qurashi (ca. 1211–1288)
Copyist: Shams al-Dawla Abu al-Fadl ibn Abi al-Hasan al-Masihi (dated 1269)

Treatise on Bones for Beginners (Maqala fi al-ʿizam li-l-mutaʿalimin) (NLM Catalog record; view PDF)
Author: Galen (129–ca. 210)
Translator: Hunayn ibn Ishaq (809–873)
Copyist: Unknown (ca. 1700)

On Astronomy (NLM Catalog record; view PDF)
Author: Anonymous
Copyist: Sadr al-Din al-Mutatabbib (the medical practitioner) (dated 1552)

NLM joins a number of prominent organizations in loaning items to this remarkable exhibition organized by the New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in partnership with the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem. Other lending institutions include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Morgan Library and Museum, the Smithsonian Institution Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and the New York Public Library.

The NLM loans items from its history of medicine collections for display in public exhibitions to qualifying institutions on a case by case basis. Details about this institutional loan program, and loans the NLM has arranged since 2012, are available on the NLM website.

The Canon of Medicine (Al-qanun fi al-tibb)
The Canon of Medicine (Al-qanun fi al-tibb) Folio 386 verso: Opening of the Fourth Book
Author: Avicenna (980–1034); Copyist: Timurid court workshop;
Language: Arabic, Ink and gold on paper, Folio: H. 25.5 cm; W. 16 cm, Iran, early 15th century

Courtesy of U. S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health: MS P 18
Bruce M. White, photographer, 2017


Mansur’s Anatomy (Tashrih-i mansuri)

Mansur’s Anatomy (Tashrih-i mansuri) Folio 25 verso, 26 recto: The Venous System
Author: Mansur ibn Ilyas (14th century); Copyist: Hasan ibn Ahmad Ardistani;
Language: Persian text, with Arabic labels for the organs
Ink on paper, Folio: H. 25 cm; W. 18 cm, Isfahan, December 8, 1488

Courtesy of U. S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health: MS P 18
Bruce M. White, photographer, 2017

Since its founding in 1836, the National Library of Medicine has played a pivotal role in translating biomedical research into practice and is a leader in information innovation. As one of the 27 Institutes and Centers at the National Institutes of Health, NLM advances research in biomedical informatics and data science and is the world's largest medical library. Millions of scientists, health professionals and the public use NLM services every day.