Medical Astrology: Science, Art, and Influence in early-modern Europe


Colored image of an armillary sphere.

From: De Sphaera mundi (14 January 1491). Click on the image for more information.


Medical astrology, otherwise known as iatromathematics, was widely practiced in early-modern Europe. Part art, part science, it was integral to several fields of study, linking medicine to natural philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy, among others. Although not without controversy, the use of astrology in medicine was by no means fringe. It figured prominently in the training of most physicians, barber surgeons, and lay practitioners by the end of the Middle Ages. At the university level, astrology was studied as part of the arts degree that was required before postgraduate study in medicine. By the early sixteenth century, educational publications on this topic were widely available and used by practitioners of all levels, from university-trained medical doctors to lay local healers.

This exhibition explores the visual history of medical astrology in Europe between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. The spectacular collection of early-modern texts at the Medical Historical Library, Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library provides the conceptual foundation for this study. Nearly 200 images from this archive supply the framework. These images are drawn from a selection of sources—mostly Latin, English- and German-language texts—dating from the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. Medical manuscripts, astronomical treatises, ephemerides, wall calendars, planet books, and almanacs are some of the sources featured in the pages that follow. In certain places, images from the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, the Yale Center for British Art, and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History are cited as supplement. The aim of the project is to make publicly available the historically rich, visually alluring medical-astrological imagery archived at the Medical Historical Library, Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library. High-resolution images are provided for each entry in this exhibition: simply click on an image for more information. You are also welcome to "Browse Exhibition Items" to explore the entire collection.


Curated by Laura Phillips, Ph.D., History of Art, Yale University