Liber Physiognomiae

Liber Physiognomiae Facsimile Edition

Padua / Ferrara (Italy) — 1440

The influence of zodiac signs on people: one of the most famous codices from the rich Biblioteca Estense Universitaria in Modena

  1. This exquisitely-illuminated manuscript is concerned with astrology and medicine in the Middle Ages

  2. Positive and negative character traits associated with the various zodiac signs are described in detail

  3. The days of the week, the seasons, zodiac signs, and the influence of planets and moon are also addressed

Liber Physiognomiae

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Liber Physiognomiae

The Liber Physiognomiae is an Italian miscellany of medieval astrological treatises from ca. 1440, the author, artist, and scribe of which remains unknown. This exquisitely illuminated manuscript is concerned with astrology and medicine in the Middle Ages and contains gorgeous pictures of watercolors. Using the positive and negative character traits of the zodiac symbols, it served as a tool for divination that also contained various articles, tables, and two astrolabes concerning the calendar, movement of heavenly bodies, and their effects on humanity including medical considerations. Counted among these are medical-astrological essays by Pietro d’Abano and interpretations of the biblical dreams of prophet Daniel. It likely originated as a commission of Marquis Leonello of Ferrara, who was a member of the rich, art-patronizing House of Este and may have originated in Ferrara or Padua. The dreamy watercolors adorning the text are reminiscent of the style of Antonio Pisanello, although his connection to the manuscript is unclear.

Liber Physiognomiae

The so-called Liber Physiognomiae is a collected volume dealing with the astrology and medicine of the Middle Ages. The hand-written text contains 72 lavishly illustrated pages, which are divided into various thematic areas. The book contains two astrolabes, this astronomical instrument consists of two concentric discs equipped with pointers, which turn within two outer circles divided into 360 degrees. The signs of the zodiac and the months of the year are displayed on these fixed circles. The interesting and insightful work belongs among the most beloved codices of the famous Biblioteca Estense Universitaria in Modena.

The Beginnings of Humanism in Italy

The Liber Physiognomiae was used in 15th century Italy as an instrument for the interpretation of the future. The positive and negative character traits associated with the various zodiac signs are described in the astrological manuscript. Other articles deal with the individual days of the week, the four seasons, the zodiac and its planets, as well as the influence of the moon and the tables depicting the months of the year. In the middle and closing sections of the work there is a commentary on the works of Pythagoras. A particularly interesting passage addresses a biblical story about the dreams of the prophet Daniel. Here, astrological symbols were combined with traditional elements from the interpretation of dreams. The medicinal advice of Pietro d’Abano is also interesting. The manuscript delightfully documents the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, from faith and superstition to science and research.

Superb Painting

The pages of the precious manuscript show high-quality depictions in dreamy watercolors. Its pictures are reminiscent of the painting style of the artist Antonio Pisanello, a trailblazer of the Renaissance in Northern Italy. However, it has never been clarified whether Pisanello was actually the creator of the manuscript. The Marquis of Ferrara, Leonello d’Este, is believed to be the patron and the ruling House of Este was one of the richest noble families in Italy and produced some of the greatest art patrons of the Renaissance.


Size / Format
72 pages / 29.3 × 21.5 cm
72 richly illuminated pages, two sheets with flat astrolabes, and movable hands for finding one's horoscope
Leonello d'Este, Marquis of Ferrara (1407–50)
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Liber Physiognomiae – Ms. Lat. 697 = α.W.8.20 – Biblioteca Estense Universitaria (Modena, Italy) Facsimile Edition
Il Bulino, edizioni d'arte – Modena, 2000
Limited Edition: 999 copies
Detail Picture

Liber Physiognomiae


Each page dedicated to a zodiac symbol has a bas-de-page miniature, a lovely pen and ink watercolor drawing created with a masterful hand. Holding a Globus in his right hand, the personification of Leo is shown as a crowned king sitting in flowing robes on a wheeled throne and flanked by two lions. The two other figures are dressed as young nobles with the young man on the left being particularly fashionable, wearing a garish red hat, tights, and boots.

Liber Physiognomiae
Single Page

Liber Physiognomiae


This astrolabe is the most important feature of this manuscript because it is the instrument used for interpreting the future. It consists of two concentric discs with pointers, which are in turn placed within two circles divided into 360 degrees. These fixed circles display the signs of the zodiac and corresponding months of the year in neatly-written black and red ink.

Despite its generally secular character, the Renaissance was a period during which the line between superstition and science was blurred as scholars sought all-encompassing knowledge – a universal truth. Although the page itself is only a tattered fragment, its most important elements have survived in miraculously good condition, including the sun’s shimmering gold leaf.

Liber Physiognomiae
Facsimile Editions

#1 Liber Physiognomiae

Il Bulino, edizioni d'arte – Modena, 2000

Publisher: Il Bulino, edizioni d'arte – Modena, 2000
Limited Edition: 999 copies
Binding: Full leather with clamshell case
Commentary: 1 volume (126 pages) by Daniele Bini, Paola Di Pietro Lombardi, and Leandro Ventura
Languages: English, Italian, German, 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.
Price Category: € (under 1,000€)
Edition available
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