Laon Computistical Miscellany

Laon Computistical Miscellany – Piaf – MS 422 – Médiathèque Suzanne-Martinet (Laon, France)

Probably Laon (France) — 9th century

Isidore of Seville's "Book of Wheels" in a intriguing Carolingian anthology: ancient knowledge of the time, the world and the stars in more than 60 colorful diagrams and miniatures

  1. Isidore of Seville (560–636 AD) was one of the most prolific and widely received authors of the Middle Ages

  2. This 9th century anthology brings together his work "on the nature of things" and his theological sentences

  3. More than 60 colored diagrams and miniatures illustrate the knowledge assembled in this manuscript

Laon Computistical Miscellany

MS 422 Médiathèque Suzanne-Martinet (Laon, France)
New Publication
Publisher's price (new)
  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Laon Computistical Miscellany

The Laon Computistical Miscellany is a Carolingian manuscript from Laon that combines two works by the influential scholar Isidore of Seville (560–636 AD) with Christian liturgical texts. Now preserved in the Médiathèque Suzanne-Martinet, this fascinating anthology was compiled over a period of nearly a century and brings together ancient knowledge and the teachings of the Church Fathers on the calculation and measurement of time, astronomy, as well as meteorology, and also on the devil and a holy life. The work is best known for Isidore's text known as the "Book of Wheels" De natura rerum, which is illuminated with numerous distinctive circle diagrams. With its total of more than 60 illustrative colored diagrams and miniatures of constellations, the Laon Computistical Miscellany is a wonderful early medieval testimony to the human urge to fathom the world and God's plan in it.

Laon Computistical Miscellany

Isidore of Seville (560–636 AD), also Isidorus Hispalensis, not only held the office of the Bishop of Seville, but was one of the most prolific and widely received authors of the Middle Ages. In his numerous Latin works, he adapted a great variety of ancient and Christian writings and dealt with diverse topics.
This anthology from the Médiathèque Suzanne-Martinet provides a wonderfully illuminated insight into the mind of the influential polymath on the threshold from antiquity to the Middle Ages. Compiled by four scribes between the second quarter and the end of the 9th century, probably in Laon, this fascinating anthology begins with Isidore's De natura rerum, Eng. "On the Nature of Things", which is followed by several excerpts from his Sententiae and various liturgical texts.

The "Book of Wheels"

De natura rerum is one of Isidore of Seville's most important works on natural history and was written by the bishop in the early 7th century. In it he treats subjects such as chronology, the measurement of time and the computus, the earth and the celestial bodies, as well as weather phenomena. Due to the many circle diagrams illustrating this knowledge, the work became known as the "Book of Wheels" in the Middle Ages. As was common at the time, Isidore compiled his information from previously published writings, in this case mainly from Latin, but also Greek, authors and the Church Fathers. Thus combining ancient knowledge with Christian theology, he himself became an authority for later medieval authors.

The Sentences of the "Last Scholar of Antiquity".

The writings of the Church Fathers also served Isidore as a basis for his Sententiae; more precisely, he made use of the works of two of them: Gregory and Augustine. In this work, the scholar compiled several theological texts that together make up a kind of handbook for the clergy, dealing, among other things, with the creation, the judgment of God, the nature of the devil, but also the duties of the clergy and God-pleasing behavior.

The World in Colorful Diagrams

An integral part of the anthology are the 60+ diagrams and miniatures. These are amazingly colorful and, in the case of the computistical and astronomical diagrams, highly precisely illuminated. Here, the colors serve not only for aesthetics and legibility, but in some cases also clearly reflect the content of the diagram in question. Thus, the color selection is by no means random and was extremely well considered.
Most densely illuminated, with 41 miniatures on only nine pages, is the part of the manuscript on the constellations. Here almost every short explanation of a constellation is accompanied by a small illustration. In it, the individual stars that make up the constellations are indicated by orange dots.

A Mysterious History

The exact circumstances of the origin of the early medieval manuscript have not been handed down. Thus, Laon can also only be presumed as the place of origin. However, researchers are relatively unanimous that the manuscript was created in the north of what is now France. Little is also known about its medieval and early modern history. The codex did not appear in the library of Notre-Dame de Laon Cathedral until the mid-17th century. After the French Revolution, it went to the Bibliothèque communale of Laon, now known as the Médiathèque Suzanne-Martinet.


Alternative Titles
Size / Format
188 pages / 29.5 × 18.5 cm
9th century
Carolingian minuscule Uncial
More than 60 miniatures and diagrams
Astronomical and computistic miscellany with Isidore of Seville's "De natura rerum", excerpts from book III of his "Sententiae" as well as some liturgical texts
Previous Owners
Library of the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Laon

Available facsimile editions:
Laon Computistical Miscellany – Piaf – MS 422 – Médiathèque Suzanne-Martinet (Laon, France)
PIAF – Madrid, 2023
Limited Edition: 400 copies
Detail Picture

Laon Computistical Miscellany

Argo Navis

This constellation, first described by Ptolemy and now obsolete, shows the ship Argo, lt. argo navis. The depiction is based on the ancient saga of the Argonauts from Greek mythology, which tells of Jason's search for the Golden Fleece. He and his companions start the journey on the legendary fast ship Argo, after which they were called Argonauts.
Typical for the representation of the constellation are the curved bow of the ship and its two striking oars.

Laon Computistical Miscellany – Piaf – MS 422 – Médiathèque Suzanne-Martinet (Laon, France)
Single Page

Laon Computistical Miscellany

The Four Seasons

This colorful diagram shows a wheel of twelve months, from the central section of which spring four schematically depicted female figures representing the seasons. With their outstretched arms, they each occupy three sections of the circle diagram, each corresponding to three months.

The figures and "spokes" of the wheel-like diagram are remarkably colorful. It is striking that the personifications of spring and autumn have been designed in two colors: blue on the left and orange on the right. This choice of color reflects the equinoxes in March and September and the transition from the warmly colored summertime on the right half of the diagram to the coolly colored wintertime on the left half. Thus, the personifications of summer and winter are also colored according to their season: light orange and icy blue.

Laon Computistical Miscellany – Piaf – MS 422 – Médiathèque Suzanne-Martinet (Laon, France)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Isidorus Hispalensis

PIAF – Madrid, 2023

Publisher: PIAF – Madrid, 2023
Limited Edition: 400 copies
Binding: Brown leather and wood, leather clasp. Facsimile and commentary come in a protective case.
Commentary: 1 volume in preparation, first half of 2024
Language: Spanish
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.
New Publication
Publisher's price (new)
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