Seeing the Invisible at John Rylands Library

Curated by Professor Peter E. Pormann and Dr Natalia Smelova in collaboration with The John Rylands Library, the exhibition ‘Seeing the Invisible’ was based on ground-breaking research resulting from the AHRC-funded project ‘The Syriac Galen Palimpsest: Galen's On Simple Drugs and the Recovery of Lost Texts through Sophisticated Imaging Techniques.’ The project, headed by Professor Pormann (PI) and Professor William Sellers (Co-I) of The University of Manchester, revealed how medieval Syriac Christians in the Middle East shaped medical knowledge. 

The exhibition ran from October 2019 – March 2020 and displayed the Syriac Galen palimpsest side-by-side with its hidden undertext revealed by multispectral imaging, along with occult books, talismanic objects and medical textbooks from Renaissance Europe to trace the roots of modern medicine. 

Multispectral imaging is a cutting-edge technology that can take three visible images in blue, green and red and can combine them with an infrared image and an X-ray image of an object in order to reveal minute hints of pigment (Liang 2012). This approach can uncover text and drawings that have been erased, painted over or otherwise damaged. It is an innovative approach in digital cultural and heritage fields that can support researchers in revealing what is not visible to the naked eye.