Thousands of years of visual culture made free through Wellcome Images

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Illustration of human viscera. By Paulo Mascagni. Wellcome Images L0019305

Illustration of human viscera. By Paulo Mascagni. Wellcome Images L0019305

We are delighted to announce that over 100,000 high resolution images including manuscripts, paintings, etchings, early photography and advertisements are now freely available through Wellcome Images.

Drawn from our vast historical holdings, the images are being released under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license.

This means that they can be used for commercial or personal purposes, with an acknowledgement of the original source (Wellcome Library, London). All of the images from our historical collections can be used free of charge.

The images can be downloaded in high-resolution directly from the Wellcome Images website for users to freely copy, distribute, edit, manipulate, and build upon as you wish, for personal or commercial use. The images range from ancient medical manuscripts to etchings by artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Francisco Goya.

The earliest item is an Egyptian prescription on papyrus, and treasures include exquisite medieval illuminated manuscripts and anatomical drawings, from delicate 16th century fugitive sheets, whose hinged paper flaps reveal hidden viscera to Paolo Mascagni’s vibrantly coloured etching of an ‘exploded’ torso.

Other treasures include a beautiful Persian horoscope for the 15th-century prince Iskandar, sharply sketched satires by Rowlandson, Gillray and Cruikshank, as well as photography from  Eadweard Muybridge’s studies of motion. John Thomson’s remarkable nineteenth century portraits from his travels in China can be downloaded, as well a newly added series of photographs of hysteric and epileptic patients at the famous Salpêtrière Hospital

Simon Chaplin, Head of the Wellcome Library, says “Together the collection amounts to a dizzying visual record of centuries of human culture, and our attempts to understand our bodies, minds and health through art and observation. As a strong supporter of open access, we want to make sure these images can be used and enjoyed by anyone without restriction.”

If you are using Internet Explorer, just clear your browser cache to ensure that you’re directed to the updated site with the high resolution content.

Should you need any more information about the launch of these historical images, please don’t hesitate to contact the Wellcome Images team.

Author: Phoebe Harkins is Communications Co-ordinator at the Wellcome Library.

This post was amended on 15/04/2014 to update the CC-BY license link from 2.0 to 4.0.

Phoebe Harkins

Phoebe Harkins is Library Communications Co-ordinator at the Wellcome Library.

See more posts by this author

11 comments on Thousands of years of visual culture made free through Wellcome Images
  • Jessamyn


    Thank you, this is wonderful.

  • Chrysostomos FOUNTOULIS


    Dear Simon THANKS!
    Dear Simon and all the people that worked for years on this treasure THANKS!
    I am a retired veterinarian, PhD London 1976, for some time in my professional carrier I worked for ICI, Welcome etc…
    Now, as retired, I am working on the cultural history of diseases like smallpox or rabies. I visited many times your image library but I never used any image although I would love to do it.
    The news that you are releasing free from copyrights your collection is grate, it is in accordance with the history of your foundation and adapted to the Google era. I spent most of my time in a small island in Greece, Icaria, but nevertheless I can study as I am in London!
    I already informed my social media friends on this grate development.
    Best regards and thanks again
    Dr Chrys Fountoulis

  • Andy Mabbett


    It’s great to have these images available, digitally, but why are you claiming copyright over, and to be the original source of, artworks and images from books which are already in the public domain?

    Why have you added a strapline underneath each image?

    And why is the precess of downloading high resolution versions of these public-domain works so tortuous, with a CAPTCHA, irrelevant terms & condition, and zipped files – why not make them available directly?

    • Phoebe Harkins


      Thanks for your comments. The blog wording has been amended to clarify the copyright and CC-BY issues.

      We’re using Captcha to avoid malicious robots, but we would stress that the site is still being developed and will be upgraded over the coming months. We’re investigating alternatives in the download process.

  • Ronald


    This is wonderful. I will surely have a good look at your images to see whether I can use them for our digital learning.
    Thanks a lot.

  • Anna


    Many thanks for granting access to your vast image library. It is much appreciated!

  • Ida Milne


    As a frequent user, fantastic news, typical of Wellcome’s positive attitude to researchers.

  • kristien petersen


    without a doubt, the most exciting development on the web since google plus!!!

    thank you so much!

  • Diane Cochrane


    This is wonderful to read, thank you, I’m quite sure I could easily distract myself from University exam pressure for a while.

  • Emanuela


    What a great contribution to (everyone’s) learning. Thank you so much.

  • Rossana


    Amazing pics. Thanks for this gift for me and all anybody.

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