Historia Plantarum

Historia Plantarum – Franco Cosimo Panini Editore – Ms. 459 – Biblioteca Casanatense (Rome, Italy)

Milan (Italy) — End of the 14th century

A royal gift from the court of the powerful Gian Galeazzo Visconti in Milan: Ibn Butlan's influential medical encyclopedia in a large and magnificently illuminated pictorial codex for King Wenceslas

  1. A medical encyclopedia of remedies with nearly 600 depictions of plants and animals

  2. It is based on the medical treatise Taqwim es-sihha by the Arab Christian doctor Ibn Butlan (d. 1075)

  3. A gift to King Wenceslas from Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1351–1402), at whose court the encyclopedia originated

Historia Plantarum

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Historia Plantarum

The codex known as Historia Plantarum was created at the end of the 14th century at the court of Gian Galeazzo Visconti in Milan. It is an exhaustive medical encyclopedia dealing with plant, animal, and mineral agents. The work is decorated with numerous high-quality botanical illustrations as well as miniatures of animals, minerals, and everyday objects numbering more than 500 in total. The Duke of Milan gifted the splendid manuscript to Wenceslaus IV, King of Bohemia and Germany to help cement their alliance. It can thus be accurately said that this is a manuscript worthy of a king.

Historia Plantarum

In the 11th century, the doctor Ibn Butlan composed the medical work Taqwim es-sihha. The Latin book series Tacuinum Sanitatis was based on the foundation of this work. Included among them are exquisite illuminated codices, which are found today in Vienna, Rome, London, and Paris. Rome’s Historia Plantarum, a work from this series, represents an exhaustive encyclopedia of the natural sciences with descriptions of plants, minerals, and animals. Special interest was shown to the specific medicinal and therapeutic effects of floral and faunal substances. The codex contains more than 500 beautiful and illustrative depictions of plans and over 80 depictions of animals.

Medicine in the Middle Ages

The Historia Plantarum is an interesting and historically significant source about medicine and also about the everyday life of the Middle Ages. According to medieval doctors, various elements were needed for a healthy lifestyle: proper diet, exercise and enough sleep, and a balanced emotional state. A life in harmony with nature was recommended. This guaranteed people health and well-being. The illuminated manuscript is illustrated with over five hundred illustrations of plants in alphabetical order. The depictions convey an astoundingly detailed and imposing overview of the thorough knowledge about plant life, which one possessed in late medieval Italy. In addition to these botanical pictures come more than eighty illustrations of animals, from which one obtained healing remedies, as well as over 30 depictions of mineral derivatives.

Prominent Previous Owners

The manuscript was made at the end of the 14th century at the court of Gian Galeazzo Visconti. The ruler was the most powerful and glorious scion of the great Visconti family and created during his reign one of the most impressive collections of unbelievably valuable book treasures. Gian Galeazzo presented the splendid Historia Plantarum to Wenceslas IV, King of Bohemia and Germany, with whom he forged a good political relationship. Today the medical encyclopedia is found in the Biblioteca Casanatense in Rome.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Medizinische Enzyklopädie Kaiser Wenzels
Tacuinum sanitatis
Size / Format
590 pages / 46.0 × 32.0 cm
Origin
Italy
Date
End of the 14th century
Style
Language
Illustrations
More than 500 illustrations of plants and 80 illustration of animals
Content
Exhaustive encyclopedia of the natural sciences with descriptions of plants, minerals, and animals based on texts by Ibn Butlan
Patron
Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1351–1402)
Previous Owners
Wenceslas IV, King of Bohemia and Germany (1361–1419)

Available facsimile editions:
Historia Plantarum – Franco Cosimo Panini Editore – Ms. 459 – Biblioteca Casanatense (Rome, Italy)
Franco Cosimo Panini Editore – Modena, 2002
Limited Edition: 750 copies
Detail Picture

Historia Plantarum

Portrait of Wenceslaus IV

On folio 1r, a rather large portrait depicts Wenceslas surrounded the six electors of the Holy Roman Empire before a mosaic background of blue, red, and gold. Dressed in armor and carrying swords, the secular prince-electors stand on the right dressed in their respective coats of arms while the archbishops of Mainz, Trier, and Cologne stand to the left. Wenceslaus is shown confidently enthroned with the imperial regalia but will be disposed within a few years of when this miniature was made.

Historia Plantarum
Single Page

Historia Plantarum

Elephant

Despite its name, this manuscript also depicts dozens of animals including creatures of fantasy like dragons and real animals like elephants that were just as strange and exotic to medieval Europeans. The elephant is nearly as tall as a tree with the bushes grazing its stomach. It is depicted with a stern expression and its ears have a splendid fall of folds.

The margins of the page are filled with rich tendrils of red and blue that also incorporate some Gothic architectural elements. Although the identity of the three figures is unclear, there are some clues. In the historiated initial, the man’s garments and gestures suggest that he is a scholar, while the figures in the medallions resemble members of the nobility, possibly his students.

Historia Plantarum
Facsimile Editions

#1 Historia Plantarum

Publisher: Franco Cosimo Panini Editore – Modena, 2002
Limited Edition: 750 copies
Binding: Green velvet with metal clasps and hardware
Commentary: 1 volume (285 pages) by Angela Adriana Cavarra, Vera Segre Rutz, Annamaria Torroncelli, and Isabella Ceccopieri
Language: Italian
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€€€ (7,000€ - 10,000€)
Edition available
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