Visualizing Medieval Medicine and Natural History, 1200–1550: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Visualizing Medieval Medicine and Natural History, 1200–1550

1st Edition

Edited by Jean A. Givens, Karen M. Reeds, Alain Touwaide


304 pages

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Images in medieval and early modern treatises on medicine, pharmacy, and natural history often confound our expectations about the functions of medical and scientific illustrations. They do not look very much like the things they purport to portray; and their actual usefulness in everyday medical practice or teaching is not obvious. By looking at works as diverse as herbals, jewellery, surgery manuals, lay health guides, cinquecento paintings, manuscripts of Pliny's Natural History, and Leonardo's notebooks, Visualizing Medieval Medicine and Natural History, 1200-1550 addresses fundamental questions about the interplay of art and science from the thirteenth to the mid-sixteenth century: What counts as a medical illustration in the Middle Ages? What are the purposes and audiences of the illustrations in medieval medical, pharmaceutical, and natural history texts? How are images used to clarify, expand, authenticate, and replace these texts? How do images of natural objects, observed phenomena, and theoretical concepts amplify texts and convey complex cultural attitudes? What features lead us to regard some of these images as typically 'medieval' while other exactly contemporary images strike us as 'Renaissance' or 'early modern' in character? Art historians, medical historians, historians of science, and specialists in manuscripts and early printed books will welcome this wide-ranging, interdisciplinary examination of the role of visualization in early scientific inquiry.


’it is rare to come across a collected volume which sustains such consistent quality and coherent discussion within such breadth of theme. … This is a beautiful, intriguing and thought-provoking collection of essays. Every one has been written elegantly and with clarity, an impressive feat given the complex nature of many of the manuscript transmissions discussed. The book is also generously illustrated …The book will of course attract scholars of medieval and early modern medicine and natural history. In the broader questions raised by this collection, however, there lies significance for a much wider readership, for those interested in the history of the book as much as those concerned with the history of the image.’ Medical History ’Few volumes with contributions on topics that belong to the fields of different disciplines - here art history, natural history, and medicine - show almost consistent high quality and signs of a real intellectual exchange between the authors. That is the case here, and the credit should go especially to the three editors.’ Nuncius ’ … a much-needed and thought-provoking collection of essays. … a stimulating read that should inspire future research. They should interest historians of medicine and science as well as those researching medieval and Renaissance visual culture more generally. This collection reflects a much more critical attitude towards art and imagery that in time will transform understanding of medieval medicine and natural history.’ English Historical Review ’The AVISTA series was created to draw attention to medieval technology, science and art in the broadest meaning of the words, and to examine their interactions. The [volume] under review succeed in fulfilling their organisers’ aims.’ Metascience

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction, Jean A. Givens, Karen M. Reeds, Alain Touwaide; Image, word and medicine in the Middle Ages, Peter Murray Jones; Latin crusaders, Byzantine herbals, Alain Touwaide; The illuminated Tacuinum sanitatis manuscripts from northern Italy ca. 1380-1400: sources, patrons, and the creation of a new pictorial genre, Cathleen Hoeniger; Erudition on display: the 'scientific' illustrations in Pico della Mirandola’s manuscript of Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, Sarah Blake McHam; Reading and writing the illustrated Tractatus de herbis, 1280-1526, Jean A. Givens; Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical studies in Milan: a re-examination of sites and sources, Monica Azzolini; (Hu)moral exemplars: type and temperament in cinquecento painting, Piers D. Britton; Leonardo da Vinci and botanical illustration: nature prints, drawings, and woodcuts ca. 1500, Karen M. Reeds; The uses of realism in early modern illustrated botany, Claudia Swan; Index.

About the Editors

Jean A. Givens is Associate Professor in History of Art at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut, USA. Karen M. Reeds is an independent scholar in Princeton, New Jersey, USA, affiliated with the Princeton Research Forum and the National Coalition of Independent Scholars. Alain Touwaide is Historian of Sciences at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, USA

About the Series

AVISTA Studies in the History of Medieval Technology, Science and Art

AVISTA Studies in History of Medieval Technology, Science and Art is a series organised by AVISTA (The Association Villard de Honnecourt for Interdisciplinary Study of Medieval Technology, Science and Art). The aim of the series is to promote the cross-disciplinary objectives of AVISTA by publishing in the areas of the history of science, technology, architecture, and art. The society takes its name from Villard (Wilars) de Honnecourt, an elusive persona of the 13th century whose autograph portfolio contains a variety of fascinating drawings and descriptions of both the fine and mechanical arts.

For further information about the series please contact Michael Greenwood at


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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General