Doctrine of the Four Humours


Doctrine of the Four Humours


Promotional 17th century Delft reproduction ceramic pill tile produced by the Burroughs, Wellcome & Co. for their Pharmacy Education Fund. The front of the tile depicts a pharmacist sitting in front of a large book looking at a urine specimen with a person standing nearby. There are unicorns depicted in each upper corner of the tile. The following description is glued to the back of the tile on a piece of paper. "Early pharmacists were often consulted about medical problems as frequently as doctors. The urine test or uroscopy, known since antiquity, was used by pharmacists and doctors in the Middle Ages and into the 17th century. Instead of making a house call, a doctor or pharmacist often diagnosed an ailment by examining a delivered urine specimen. From such a specimen, presumably even chastity and lovesickness could be detected. The "Doctrine of the Four Humours," an influential concept in medieval medicine, was based on the relationship between the body's "humours" and the elements: blood = fire, phlegm = earth, black bile = water, yellow bile = air. Properly balanced, the humours maintained health. Sickness resulted when the balance was upset. Urine analysis could help locate disease. Anatomical research ended belief in the humours doctrine, but uroscopy remains a useful tool in medicine and pharmacy. Pill tiles, used to prepare medications, were awarded to pharmacists upon completion of their training and in recognition of their service to the community. This handmade tile, from Delft, Holland, is part of a limited edition commissioned by Burroughs, Wellcome & Co. The scene depicts the value of uroscopy and recognizes the role of the pharmacist, as significant in the past as it is today. B-970."



Tiles copyrighted by Burroughs, Wellcome & Co.







6 in x 6 in

Temporal Coverage

Original Format


Burroughs, Wellcome & Co., “Doctrine of the Four Humours,” American Institute of the History of Pharmacy Digital Collection, accessed July 15, 2024,