Artibus et Historiae no. 59 (XXX)

2009, ISSN 0391-9064

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ANNA OLSZEWSKA - Encyclopedic Miniatures and Iconography in Two 14th-Century Medical Treatises at the Jagiellonian Library in Cracow (ms. 815 and ms. 816)

The image of the universe fragmentized between cycles of historiated initials is a general subject linking the decorations of the vast family of scientific and philosophical texts copied into medieval manuscripts. The present article examines the process of adaptation of the encyclopedic miniature cycles in two richly decorated medical miscellanies of French origin, preserved at the Jagiellonian Library in Cracow.

The first codex is an example of the articella (Cracow, BJ, ms. 815), the second is usually described as the miscellany of texts by Isaack Judaeus (Cracow, BJ, ms. 816). Both manuscripts can be dated to the third decade of the 14th century. Except for the "university"{ scenes, such as a dispute between scholars, both volumes contain series of depictions based on contemporary encyclopedic cycles, like those represented in the miniatures from De proprietibus rerum by Bartholomaeus Anglicus (Autun, BM, ms. 32), Li livres dou santé d'Aldobrandino da Siena (Paris, Arsenal, ms. 2510; Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 12323; London, BL, ms. Sloane 2435) or Regimen Sanitatis (Vienna, ÖNB, Codex Vindobonensis S.N., 2644). In the present article a few motifs that appear in encyclopedic as well as in the medical miscellanies are distinguished: the figure of the philosopher who observes the universe, the four seasons, the labours of the months, everyday hygiene in correspondence with the temperaments, and the preparation of medicaments.

Careful analysis of the Cracow codices leads to some interesting conclusions. In the two medical miscellanies discussed here, common encyclopedic cycles have been incorporated into academic manuals - a type of book that is hardly ever illuminated. First of all, this testifies to the well-known practice of using traditional iconography whenever a new or extraordinary text was to be decorated. Second, it shows that in the course of their application, the iconographic motifs, like the labours of the months, the four seasons or the temperaments, were not repeated mechanically. Scenes depicted in the medical miscellanies are not images ad litteram, but rather fusions of elements taken from representations of natural phenomena (e.g. months, temperaments, seasons) and the medical subjects from the text which they accompany (e.g. fever, death etc.). Through this process, these medical treatises became a kind of visual commentary that stressed various connections between the theory of Gallenic medicine and the medieval model of the universe. This testifies to a certain level of philosophical reflection present in medieval cosmological miniatures.

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