Early Modern Drugs and Medicinal Cannibalism

18th century container for medicinal mummy, Germany. Image via Wikimedia Commons. This is the first Res Obscura post after another rather lengthy break, but I plan to start updating more regularly in the new year. I’ve cannibalized portions of this post from a piece I wrote for the new online journal I helped co-found, The Appendix, […]

From Quacks to Quaaludes: Three Centuries of Drug Advertising

Eli Lilly Amphedroxyn (methamphetamine) advertisement, 1951. New York State Journal of Medicine, Vol. 51, No. 1. (Via the Bonkers Institute). Portuguese physician João Curvo Semedo, 1707, sporting the extravagant locks typical of his era. Image viathe Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal. In his book Polyanthea Medicinal (Lisbon, 1697), a Portuguese doctor and seller of remedios secretos (“secret remedies”) named João Curvo Semedo […]

American Monsters: Images of Brazilian Nature from Early Modern Europe

“The most disgusting and nauseating thing which man ever saw.” -Spanish chronicler Andres Bernaldez on Christopher Columbus’ first impression of Caribbean iguanas, 1513. IN HIS BOOK Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World, Harvard literature professor Stephen Greenblatt argues that “the production of a sense of the marvelous in the New World is at the very […]

"For they are very expert and skillful in Diabolical Conjurations": Lionel Wafer in Central America, 1681

“I sat awhile, cringing upon my Hams among the Indians, after their Fashion, painted as they were, and all naked but only about the Waist, and with my Nose-piece… hanging over my mouth. … ‘Twas the better part of an Hour before one of the Crew, looking more narrowly upon me, cried out, Here’s our […]

A Defaced Herbal from 1710: William Salmon’s Botanologia

A portrait of Salmon from the frontispieceto his Ars Chirurgica (1699). The image above is from a copy of William Salmon’s Botanologia: The English Herbal, or History of Plants (London: I. Dawks for H. Rhodes and J. Taylor, 1710) which is available for view via Villanova University’s digital library. Evidently the nudity of the figure (I […]

Jahangir’s Turkey: Early Modern Globalization and Exotic Animals

The above image is one of my favorite examples of the bizarre cross-pollinations that early modern globalization brought about. It is a detail from a lavish watercolor painting created in 1618 by Bichitr for the Mughal emperor Jahangir (1569-1627). Here we find the strange juxtaposition of James I and VI of England and Scotland (1566-1625) […]

Smokers and Drunkards in the Dutch Golden Age

I’ve recently been amassing an image library of paintings by the likes of Frans Hals, Adrian Brouwer, Gerrit Dou, Gabriel Metsu and Jan Steen — Dutch painters who were contemporaries of Rembrandt and Vermeer and, though less well known, were in my view almost as good. I suspect that Vermeer’s popularity has given us a […]

Cabinets of Curiosities in the Seventeenth Century

“There is no man alone, because every man is a Microcosm, and carries the whole world about him… There is all Africa, and her prodigies in us.”– Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici, 1642 Early modern Europeans envisioned their own bodies as miniature worlds which echoed God’s Creation in every detail. And in the expansionist, acquisitive […]

The Baroque Monsters of Father Schott

In Portuguese, barroco means “imperfect pearl”: a fitting name for the Baroque era, a period that combined ornate beauty with a distinct taste for the odd, macabre and irregular. This interplay between the beautiful and the monstrous — and its connections to the rise of the “New Science” in the second half of the seventeenth […]

"It is an error to suppose that lions do not approach a fire": Observations of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier

 “It is the custom of the Dutch to send parties from time to time to explore the country, and those who go furthest are best rewarded. A number of soldiers went in a party with a sergeant who commanded them, and advanced far into the country, where they made a large fire at midnight, both […]