Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




Medieval Medical Matters

Healing with stones



God has endowed precious stones with miraculous powers. They succour man in body and soul, banish Satan and protect all living beings from his malice. Therefore the devil shuns precious stones. They cause him to shudder by day and night.

St Hildegard von Bingen, Physica (The Healing Powers of Nature), с/ 1151-1158



Early eighteenth-century pharmacy

Herbal recipes prescribed by St Hildegard of Bingen have been used since the Middle Ages.
Containers from the Carmelite Convent in Schongau, c. 1700


In Europe and America, the trade of precious stones is booming and exhibitions of common minerals attract more visitors every year. The sheer volume of advertising for alternative therapy alone is astonishing. Increased dissatisfaction with the results of scientific medicine is promoting a search for different treatments. This quest for healing has led to the rediscovery of all sorts of forgotten cures and remedies for disease, among them the therapeutic use of precious stones. The practice of healing through the use of such stones has a long tradition. Pliny the Elder, a Roman writer who perished at Pompeii when Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, wrote at length about the healing properties of gems and minerals in his Historia naturalis, an encyclopaedia of natural science. Later Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540—604) and the Benedictine monk known as the Venerable Bede (672/73—735), the founder of English historiography and author of De natura rerum, joined the circle of those "in the know" on the healing properties of precious stones. These two men drew their inspiration from the Revelation of St John the Divine, which mentions crystals and precious stones in connection with his vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem. During the Middle Ages, the first person to advance the practice of this type of alternative medicine was a woman: St Hildegard of Bingen (1098—1179), an abbess who was later canonized and is today regarded as the first German mystic and one of the great women of the Middle Ages. Her writings deal with the aetiology of disease and the treatment of patients, and she even corresponded with emperors, kings, popes and scholars on the subject. St Hildegard's natural remedies included herbal infusions and elixirs distilled from metals or precious stones dissolved in wine, and according to one: "A sufferer from gout should place a diamond in some wine for a whole day and then drink of it. The gout will depart from him." By the late Middle Ages, however, healing with precious stones was seen as witchcraft and black magic, and its practice seemed threatened into oblivion. In the fifteenth century, Paracelsus (1493—1541), alchemist and the city physician to Salzburg and Basel, staunchly defended this form of alternative medicine, and encouraged the therapeutic use of mineral baths and minerals as medicine. Jakob Bohme (1575—1624), and his circle of mystic philosophers, also defended nature-based medicine — their teachings later exercised great influence on the German Romantics, especially the nineteenth-century poets who reawakened interest in alternative medicine.

Today, at the close of the twentieth century, St Hildegard of Bingen's remedies, the resurgence of nineteenth-century homeopathic medicine, together with the flower-essence therapy developed by English herbalist Edward Bach, form the basis of a type of medical treatment advocated by New Age circles. Furthermore, St Hildegard's knowledge of the psychological aspects of disease finds its resonance in modern psychosomatic medicine. In the work illustrated here, the saint and visionary is seen dictating a letter in her cell, whose columns symbolize the Old and the New Covenant, and above her is the five-tongued ray of divine inspiration.


Anonymous, German
St Hildegard Dictating Her Letters to Monk Volmar
с. 1180
Detail from the
Liber Scivias,
copy of the former Rupertsberg Codex
Illuminated manuscript
Abbey of St Hildegard, Eibingen


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