24 June 2009
PLATEARIUS, Matthaeus. De Medicinis Simplicibus, in Latin, DECORATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM [southern Italy, early 13th century]
A bifolium, each leaf 210 x 145mm, single column of 35 lines in brown ink in a small gothic semi-cursive hand, one-line initials alternately red and blue with contrasting penwork, contemporary marginalia, apparently used as a wrapper (one side of the bifolium faded, slight staining and darkening at edges).
Also known as the "Circa Instans", from the opening words of the text this medieval herbal or 'antidotarium' listing various herbs and their medicinal properties was compiled at Salerno about 1140-50 by one of the school's foremost teachings physicians. The family surnamed Platearius was the pre-eminent dynasty of physicians in the city during the period when the Scuola di Salerno was recognised as the leading centre for both theoretical and practical medicine in the whole of western Europe. Matthaeus' text is a compendium of 12-century botanical science and a prototype of the modern pharmacopoeia. "Copies were circulated throughout Europe, where its value was instantly recognized and where it shaped the literature of botany and pharmacy for the next 300 years" (Frank J. Anderson, "An illustrated History of the Herbal", 1977). The text describes various plants and their medicinal properties in roughly alphabetical order: here beginning with the letter S.
Manuscript copies of this text are rare. The first edition of the text was printed at Venice in 1497.
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