Six Physicians Portraits

During the Middle Ages, two Arab physicians and pharmacists, Mesue the Elder (VIII-IX century) and Mesue the Younger (XII century), were sometimes named Evangelista Pharmacopeorum and often confused with the Christian Saint John of Damascus (VII-VIII century). This confusion makes sense of a curious particular in the Cathedral (the Duomo) of Milan: the presence, in one of its famous stained-glass windows, of the portraits of six great physicians, three from the pagan world and three from the Islamic one.

In fact, in 1479, the Milanese apothecaries commissioned to the artist Nicolas from Varallo a stained-glass window in honour of saint John of Damascus whom they had chosen as protector for the said mistake1. And until today, three couples of medical portraits can be seen accompanying - in the second right chapel of the left transept - some scenes from the saint’s life: Mesue and Hippocrates, Claudius Galen and Dioscorides, Avicenna and Serapion.


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