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Little Bottles

Detail of 'Apothecary Bottles'. Photograph by Rosamond Purcell, © 2000. Click for a larger, full image.

Apothecary Bottles

These bottles represent only a few of those in the collection of medicines and poisons from the medical institute museum of Facultad de Medicina, in Valladolid, Spain. As the photographer, I made a selection of the most poisonous looking and sounding drugs—selecting them either for their brilliant color or by name—arsenic, cyanide, and cochineal, the red dye made from insects.

Many of these substances were used in homeopathic—or not so homeopathic—amounts as standard ingredients in European medicines. They certainly were not viewed by every other culture as the way to cure diseases. The Dutch naturalist Georgius Everhardi Rumphius (1628-1702), who was an expert on the history, lore, and medicinal effects of tropical plants, noted that many tropical remedies were more effective in curing disease than European cures which, he suspected, often did more harm than good.

About the Artist

About the Artist Rosamond Wolff Purcell is an internationally renowned photographer, artist, and author. Her work has appeared worldwide in many solo museum exhibitions. She has also been featured in articles in science and humanities publications, including the Atlantic, Smithsonian, and Harvard Magazine, and is a contributing editor to The Sciences, a bimonthly magazine published by the New York Academy of Sciences.

Rosamond Purcell has published her photographs in eight books, including collaborations with Stephen Jay Gould for Finders Keepers: Eight Collectors, and Illuminations: A Bestiary, which won the American Institute for Graphic Design Book Award. She is the author of Special Cases: Natural Anomalies and Historical Monsters (now available in our online store!, published in 1997 by Chronicle Books. The book is based on an exhibition that Purcell created for the Getty Center in 1994. Her most recent book is Swift as a Shadow: Extinct and Endangered Animals.

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