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Unknown Artist : “The Ayurvedic Man” (1700s)

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This anatomical illustration originated in 18th century Nepal and became one of the highlights of the Wellcome Library collection when it surfaced in London in 1986. Nepali history researcher Sanyukta Shrestha explains that “illustrations of scientific study are quite rare in Sanskrit manuscripts. Besides a very few of them, like the 11th century Rasendramangala which merely has diagrams of alchemical apparatus, others have not been discovered till date.” Moreover, “most other human body representations in South Asian traditional paintings are either guided by the early Vedic philosophy of Vishwaroop (The Universal Form), or that of the Tantric chakras or kundalini. In contrast, this particular piece illustrates a purely Ayurvedic concept of human anatomy through pen and watercolour.”

The Sanskrit passages surrounding the model are garbled verses from a classic Ayurvedic work, Bhavaprakasa, by Bhavamisra. Numerous errors suggest that the artist or scribe was copying the text, perhaps from an earlier version of the painting, without understanding what was being transcribed. The organs are labeled in Bhasa, a vernacular derivative of Sanskrit. According to the Wellcome Library’s Lalita Kaplish, the work was “a likely collaboration between an Ayurvedic physician, Tibetan artists and a calligrapher, all based in Kathmandu, Nepal,” and was possibly used by the physician as “as an aide-memoire for his practice.”

Image by the Wellcome Library, London (CC BY 4.0).

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