This playful image from a French 15th-century manuscript depicts a topsy-turvy world in which canine patients seek treatment from a rabbit physician wearing eyeglasses. Some years ago, The Morgan was approached by a firm that wished to use the image in an advertisement for imported burgundy. The red liquid in the beaker the rabbit physician is scrutinizing would, it was hoped, illustrate the wine’s superlative body and flavor. We had to inform the firm that the beaker contained not a hearty burgundy but a reddish urine sample. Needless to say, plans for the advertisement were canceled.
Medieval physicians relied heavily on urine as a diagnostic tool, and the urine specimen was a symbol of the physician in art. Uroscopy, however, was quite unreliable until modern times, a fact already recognized in Sebastian Brant’s Ship of Fools (1494):
A fool is he, of little skill,
Who tests the urine of the ill
And says: “Wait, sir, and be so kind,
The answer in my books I’ll find.”
And while he thumbs the folios
The patient to the bone yard goes.
To view more images of rabbits from The Morgan’s collection of medieval manuscripts, click here.