Manuscript exhibition highlights the link between medieval art and wellness

Baltimore, MD —On June 20, the Walters Art Museum debuts Healing the Body, Healing the Soul: Methods of Therapy in Medieval Europe, an intimate display of rare books and manuscripts exploring the link between body and soul as envisioned during the medieval period. Featuring 23 works from the museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition demonstrates how works of art contributed to medieval European understandings of wellness and even aided in therapeutic practices.

“Wellbeing is a timely subject for us in Baltimore City, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. While our great city is a hub of medical research and practice, it is also a place that experiences poverty’s devastating effects on bodily and mental health, making this exhibition relevant and impactful as it grapples directly with issues people are facing,” said Julia Marciari-Alexander, Andrea B. and John H. Laporte Director. “This innovative exhibition allows visitors to gain an understanding of the function of medieval art and presents an opportunity for us to share new narratives through the works in our historic collection.”

Healing the Body, Healing the Soul is divided into three sections that address physical healing, spiritual healing, and the interlinked nature of physical and spiritual health. Visitors will enjoy rare books and manuscripts from the Walters rare book library along with medieval objects, and a photograph by contemporary artist Pete Eckert. Standout works include Harmony of the Elements and the Humors, a late 12th-century cosmology that outlines the complex connection between humans and the universe. The works examine several topics, including medical theories, medicine in practice, saints and health, pilgrimage, and spiritual exercise.

“The richness of the Walters book collection allows us to delve into the link between body and soul through rarely seen works that have never been displayed together in this way. People in the medieval period believed that nature was part of God’s creation, making the physical and spiritual intertwined,” said Lynley Anne Herbert, Robert and Nancy Hall Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts. “There is sometimes a misconception that medieval people were ignorant about the workings of the body, but there are numerous manuscripts in our collection that testify to the intense interest in health from this period. People in the medieval period were trying to understand the different parts of the body and the mind so they could find solutions to the illnesses that afflicted them.”

The show’s offerings focus primarily on European Christian visual culture and also acknowledge the significant influence of ancient, Muslim, and Jewish medicine and philosophy on these ideas and practices.

A work from Eckert’s Bone Light series offers a contemporary take on the relationship between body and spirit. According to the artist, who creates light photography of his skeleton, the loss of his sight produced a phantom sense of light coming from his bones, which he captures in illuminated portraits. The work speaks to the current lived experiences of people with disabilities and creates a link to understand how disability was perceived during the medieval period in the context of body and spirit.

“There is so much nuance in this exhibition. With Pete’s work—and the show as a whole—I hope visitors see this as an invitation to think deeply about the connections between disability and illness in the medieval world, as well as today in Baltimore,” said Rachel Leeds, the museum’s Accessibility Advocate who worked alongside the curators to shape the tone of the exhibition. “Even more, I hope people consider how they can use the connection between their body and mind to create wholeness within themselves, on their own terms. Disabled people have always existed, and we are always going to exist. We don’t need to cure or overcome disability to live full, valuable lives.”

The Walters Art Museum debuted a new permanent manuscripts gallery in the summer of 2023. Healing the Body, Healing the Soul is the third exhibition on view in the space, underscoring a commitment to utilizing the museum’s permanent collection made of predominantly historic works to tell stories that resonate with our Baltimore community today. Previously, the gallery held New on the Bookshelf: Expanded Narratives, which displayed the museum’s recent rare books and manuscripts acquisitions, followed by New on the Bookshelf: The Creative Power of Women, on view through June 16, which seeks to shine a spotlight on recently acquired works that were printed, illuminated, commissioned, designed, or written by women.

Healing the Body, Healing the Soul: Methods of Therapy in Medieval Europe was curated by Orsolya Mednyánszky, Former Zanvyl Krieger Doctoral Fellow; Lynley Anne Herbert, Robert and Nancy Hall Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts; and Lauren Maceross, Zanvyl Krieger Doctoral Fellow

This installation is generously funded by Supporters of the Walters Art Museum. To make a contribution toward this exhibition, please consider making a gift today.

About the Walters Art Museum

The Walters Art Museum is a cultural hub in the heart of Baltimore, located in the city’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. The museum’s collection spans more than seven millennia, from 5,000 BCE to the 21st century, and encompasses 36,000 objects from around the world. Walking through the museum’s historic buildings, visitors encounter a stunning panorama of thousands of years of art, from romantic 19th-century images of French gardens to mesmerizing Ethiopian icons, richly illuminated Qur’ans and Gospel books, ancient roman sarcophagi, and serene images of the Buddha. Since its founding, the Walters’ mission has been to bring art and people together to create a place where people of every background can be touched by art. As part of this commitment, admission to the museum and special exhibitions is always free.

Visitor Information

Admission to the museum is free. The Walters Art Museum is located at 600 N. Charles St., north of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. For general museum information, call 410-547-9000 or visit

Free admission to the Walters Art Museum is made possible through the combined generosity of individual members and donors, foundations, corporations, and grants from the City of Baltimore, Maryland State Arts Council, Citizens of Baltimore County, and Howard County Government and Howard County Arts Council.