FACSIMILE: The British Library is a treasure trove of stunning manuscripts, not all of which are in the actual Royal exhibition. One of these books is an Italian herbal, made around the year 1440 (Sloane MS 4016), which contains several delightful images. The manuscript is a luxurious production, and you may like to know that a full-colour facsimile of it is available.
* Shelf mark: Sloane MS 4016
* Date: 1440
* Provenance: Italy (Lombardy)
* Size: 380 x 260 mm
* 218 pages, all illuminated
* Bound in embossed, dark green leather
* Full-colour commentary volume
In the Middle Ages, medicine was undoubtedly the scientific realm influenced most by the many cultural elements that contributed to shaping society. Its Greek foundations were added to by Latin, Byzantine, Arabic and Mozarabic contributions and others from further afield that were transmitted by cultures bordering on the western world.
As a result, each medicinal plant had as many names as the cultures using it to make remedies. But the variety of names used for a single plant in different cultures sometimes led to confusion. To avoid this risk, dictionaries were produced and botanical albums too, featuring pictures of the plants and other simples used in everyday therapeutic practices together with the various names they were called by the different peoples that comprised medieval society.
Codex Sloane 4016, currently in the collections at the British Library is one such book enabling the different names of these plants to be linked to the plants themselves. This helped avoid confusion and the disastrous consequences of giving a patient a simple other than the one prescribed by the physician.