menu icon mobile devices search icon mobile devicesSearch the site

Imagining Medicine

14 October – 22 December 2016

Hammers, vacuum cleaners and duck beaks: see how 16th and 17th-century surgical procedures have been reimagined through the photography of Sian Bonnell.

Bonnell's photographs take inspiration from illustrations of surgery from the 17th century. Surgery was often limited to simple procedures, some of which, such as amputation or the removal of bladder stones, were extremely risky. Patients could die through blood loss or infection following the operation and there was no anaesthetic.

Based on images in The John Rylands Library collections, these playful yet intriguing photographs will make you think again about medical illustration.


An Evening of Imagining Medicine

Wednesday, 26 October: 6pm

evening-with-im.jpg‌‌Join us at The John Rylands Library for a unique opportunity to meet the people behind our Imagining Medicine exhibition, artist Dr Sian Bonnell and art historian Dr Cordelia Warr, together with experts on our Medical Collection.

Sian and Cordelia recruited University of Manchester students to research and re-enact illustrations of surgical procedures from our Medical Collections. Photographed by Sian, the images are brought to life in a way that is playful but which also provokes serious thought.

Alongside the compelling photographs, you will be introduced to the practices that made up early modern medicine by experts from the University, as well as having the rare opportunity to view the Medical Collections up-close and discover our striking Library after hours.

Booking is required, but the event is free. Book your place via the Manchester Science Festival website.




The exhibition is the result of a collaboration between Dr Sian Bonnell (Manchester Metropolitan University), Dr Cordelia Warr (Art History and Visual Studies, the University of Manchester) and Professor Tony Freemont (the Manchester Medical School).

Thanks to the students from The University of Manchester (Art History and Visual Studies; the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine; the School of Medicine) who participated in the project:

  • Florence Badley
  • Isabella Cohen
  • Miriam Dafydd
  • Rebecca Evans
  • Sadhia Kahn
  • Tuesday Knowles
  • Alice Ryrie
  • Stefania Toft

We would like to than The University of Manchester for supporting this Arts and Science Collaboration.

Sian Bonnell would also like to thank the following:

  • Dr Jem McKay

Manchester School of Art:

  • Professor Mary Oliver
  • Jacqueline Butler
  • David Brittain
  • Richard Page

Can we help?