Pictured: Miniature of a plant and boys standing in the branches of a fruit tree picking fruit and throwing it down to a woman standing below.
Selections from a beautifully illustrated 15th century version of the “Tractatus de Herbis”, a book produced to help apothecaries and physicians from different linguistic backgrounds identify plants they used in their daily medical practise.
No narrative text is present in this version, simply pictures and the names of each plant written in various languages – a technique which revolutionised botanical literature, allowing as it did for easier transcultural exchanges of scientific knowledge.
This particular “Tractaus de Herbis”, thought to date from around about 1440 AD and known as Sloane 4016 (its shelf-mark in the British Library), hails from the Lombardy region in the north of Italy and is a copy of a similar work by a figure called Manfredus, which itself was a version of the late 13th century codex known as Egerton 747. As Minta Colins writes in Medieval Herbals:
The Illustrative Traditions (University of Toronto Press, 2000), as opposed to these early versions, this sumptuously illustrated 15th century copy was most likely created with the wealthy book collector in mind rather than the physician, as “the primary scientific purpose had by then given way to the bibliophile’s interest”.
Some of the delightful highlights of the selection given below include: a demon repelled; a trio of mouse, cat and human corpse; an animal engaging what seems to be a spot of self-castration; an aphrodisiac induced scene; and a man slyly urinating into a pot.
Miniatures of a plant and a fish.
Miniature of a lion, a leopard, a rabbit, and an elephant.