Physician's Prayer


Physician's Prayer


Limited Edition Giclee Print
285 units 
16" X 18 1/2"

The Physician’s Prayer of Maimonides is a document ascribed to the great Jewish scholar, philosopher, and physician of the 12th century, Moses Maimonides (in Hebrew, Rabbi Mosheh ben Maimon, or Rambam). It is still used by doctors today for inspiration and spiritual support.1

Looking for an interesting visual way to decorate the document, I turned to ancient medicine, both Greek and Roman (Hippocrates, Galen), and Medieval and Elizabethan. Accordingly, I divided the painting into four parts, representing the Four Elements and the Four Humors, with the seasons, planets, and anatomical organs corresponding to them according to these ancient medicine traditions.

The colors I chose for each part of the painting correlate to the Elements, the Humors, and the Seasons as well.

I also used some of my favorite geometrical patterns from Islamic Spain, where Maimonides was born and lived before moving to Egypt to be the physician of the sultan in Cairo.

On the border around the main picture I drew medicinal plants (chosen for their matching colors, as much as possible, and assuming they’re more esthetically pleasing than bottles of pills...) which I found in The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants by Andrew Chevallier .

On the upper right side is the element of AIR and the SANGUINE humor (energy, optimism), related to blood and the liver. It correlates to the season of SPRING, and to the planet Jupiter. Here I painted also the sculpture of Maimonides, which I saw in the Jewish Quarter of Cordoba, Spain, the city where Maimonides was born in 1135. The drawing of the liver is a copy I made from Gray’s Anatomy (as are all the other anatomical organs in the picture.)

The medicinal plants in this part are Foxglove, apparently good for the heart; Ginko -- to increase circulation to the brain, and for asthma and inflammation; the Poppy is used as narcotic, and to relieve pain.

Below this are the element of FIRE and the CHOLERIC humor (hot temper, easily angered) related to yellow bile, and the gall bladder. It correlates to SUMMER and to the planet Mars. Here I copied also the famous Study of the Human Body by Leonardo da Vinci, whose anatomical drawings are so eternally fascinating. The plants here are St. John’s Wort, used for anxiety and depression, and California Poppy, used for pain relief and insomnia.

Next, on the bottom left, is the element of EARTH and the MELANCHOLIC humor (sadness, depression), related to black bile and the spleen. It correlates to AUTUMN and to the planets Earth and Saturn. Here I painted the striped pillars of the mezquita (mosque) in Cordoba, for no other reason than that Maimonides may have lived near them as a kid, and that nowhere else would I ever have an excuse to paint them... The medicinal plants here are all roots, to keep with the earth motif. They are Ginseng, a stimulant and a male aphrodisiac; Chicory root – for rheumatic conditions and the digestive system; Yellow Dock, a bile stimulant and a laxative; and Ginger, for nausea and digestive problems.

Finally, on the upper left, is the element of WATER and the PHLEGMATIC humor (apathy, laziness) related to phlegm, or the white bile, and to the lungs and kidneys. It corresponds to WINTER and to the planets Venus and the Moon. Here, to honor the woman doctor who was my Patron of the Arts on this project, Jennifer Bonheur of NYC, and all other women doctors, I painted one woman doctor who has a very special meaning to me: my grandmother, Dr. Ester Baskin Einhorn of blessed memory, who studied medicine in Russia before the revolution, when Jews were subject to severe quotas, and later moved to Palestine, in 1926, and worked as a gynecologist and marriage counselor in Tel Aviv for many decades.

The plants here are the Chicory flowers, a tonic for the liver; Blue Flag Iris, good for skin diseases; and Myrtle, for digestive and urinary problems, and to heal wounds.

I thank Dr. Jennifer Bonheur for the inspiration for this piece.

Original painting: Ink, watercolor, and gouache on acid free T. H. Saunders paper, 16” x 18 ½”

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRAYER OF MAIMONIDES (abridged and full-text versions)

1The text in the middle is the short, Hebrew version, which, as far as I know, is the only one used in Israel. Since I had a little space left, and since this short version does not contain any of the request for humility which is so prominent in the long version, I took the liberty of adding two sentences from the morning prayer, which suggest humility by ascribing to God some of the healing (Blessed art thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast formed humans in wisdom…who heals all creatures and does wonders.) At the bottom, I wrote an abridged version of the English full prayer, which was translated from the German document written apparently by the physician Marcus Herz, a pupil of Immanuel Kant, around 1793. It is not clear where Herz got that version, but its spirit matches Maimonides’ writings so well that it is assumed that at least part of it is an authentic Maimonides text. Attached to this explanation is the full text translated by Harry Friedenwal in 1917.

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