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The Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceae illustrated in medieval manuscripts known as the Tacuinum Sanitatis

The Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceae illustrated in medieval manuscripts known as the Tacuinum Sanitatis

By Harry S. Paris1, Marie-Christine Daunay and Jules Janick

Annals of Botany, Vol.103:8 (2009)

Abstract: Beginning in the last two decades of the 14th century, richly illuminated versions of the Tacuinum Sanitatis, the Latin translation of an 11th-century Arabic manuscript known as Taqwim al-Sihha bi al-Ashab al-Sitta, were produced in northern Italy. These illustrated manuscripts provide a window on late medieval life in that region by containing some 200 full-page illustrations, many of which vividly depict the harvest of vegetables, fruits, flowers, grains, aromatics and medicinal plants. Our objective was to search for and identify the images of taxa of Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceae.

We have located all reported illustrated Tacuinum Sanitatis and similar or related manuscripts, searched through printed or electronic reproductions of them, categorized six of them that display full-page illustrations as archetypic, and established the identity of the Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceae appearing in these six manuscripts.

Of the Cucurbitaceae, Cucumis sativus (short-fruited cucumbers), Cucumis melo (including round as well as elongate melons), Citrullus lanatus (both sweet watermelons and citrons), and Lagenaria siceraria (including bottle-shaped as well as long gourds), are illustrated. Of the Solanaceae, Solanum melongena (egg-shaped purple aubergines) and Mandragora sp. (mandrake) are illustrated. These depictions include some of the earliest known images of cucumber, casaba melon (Cucumis melo Inodorous Group) and aubergine, each of which closely resembles an extant cultivar-group or market type. Overall, the botanically most accurate images are in the version of the Tacuinum located in the O¨ sterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, cod. ser. n. 2644. Similarities and differences in botanical accuracy among the images of Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceae in the six archetypal Tacuinum manuscripts suggest to us that another illustrated Tacuinum, now lost, may have antedated and served as a model or inspiration for the six surviving archetypic manuscripts.

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