chapter  5
32 Pages

Reading and Writing the Illustrated Tractatus de herbis, 1280–1526

ByJean A. Givens

Toward the very end of the thirteenth century, a Salernitan scholar compiled an updated summary of herbal knowledge that has come to be known as the Tractatus de herbis et plantis. Such collections of text extracts were familiar adjuncts to therapeutic theory and practice, but this particular scholar departed from several centuries of medieval practice by including some 400 images as part of his strategy of communication. The decision proved popular as demonstrated by the appearance of the Tractatus in Latin and the vernacular, in many manuscripts, and still later, in print. Indeed, readers appear to have consulted this work well into the sixteenth century. The mere survival of a medieval “scientific” text in print is no novelty; fifteenth-and sixteenth-century printers freely mined comparable sources. Rather, the interest of this text and its survival resides in the ways in which the text and its visual apparatus were initially conceived and then reworked over time to suit a changing audience for the text.