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Thousands of years of visual culture made free through Wellcome Images

20 January 2014



Over 100,000 images ranging from ancient medical manuscripts to etchings by artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Francisco Goya are now available for free download as hi-res images on our website.

Drawn from the historical holdings of the world-renowned Wellcome Library, the images are being released under the Creative Commons-Attribution only (CC-BY) licence. This means that all the historical images can be downloaded here to freely copy, distribute, edit, manipulate, and build upon as you wish, for personal or commercial use as long as the source Wellcome Library is attributed.

The historical collections offer a rich body of historical images including manuscripts, paintings, etchings, early photography and advertisements. The earliest item is a 3000 year old Egyptian prescription on papyrus, and treasures include exquisite medieval illuminated manuscripts and anatomical drawings, ranging from delicate 16th century fugitive sheets, whose hinged paper flaps reveal hidden viscera, to Paolo Mascagni’s vibrantly coloured etching of an ‘exploded’ torso.

From the beauty of a Persian horoscope for the 15th-century prince Iskandar to sharply sketched satires by Rowlandson, Gillray and Cruikshank, the collection is sacred and profane by turns. Photography includes Eadweard Muybridge’s studies of motion, John Thomson’s remarkable nineteenth century portraits from his travels in China and a newly added series of photographs of hysteric and epileptic patients at the famous Salpêtrière Hospital.

Simon Chaplin, Head of the Wellcome Library, says “Together the collection amounts to a dizzying visual record of centuries of human culture, and our attempts to understand our bodies, minds and health through art and observation. As a strong supporter of open access, we want to make sure these images can be used and enjoyed by anyone without restriction.”

Catherine Draycott, Head of Wellcome Images says, “Wellcome Images is an invaluable visual resource for anyone interested in themes around medicine and the wider history of health and we are delighted to make our growing archive of historical images freely available to all, and provide the mechanism for direct access to them. We hope that users, both personal and commercial take full advantage of the material available.”

Our specialist team of researchers at Wellcome Images are available to advise and assist with sourcing and searching for images and can be contacted at images@wellcome.ac.uk.

Why not try it out now, just search for images you are interested in, choose your favourites and click on ‘Download hi-res images’ and follow the instructions to download your images instantly.

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