By Cassandra Contreras
The 16th century was known as the century of great herbals when the dedicated study of herbalism flourished. This allowed for many books to be created based on fieldwork and scientific fact. At around 1507, a German physician and botanist, Leonhart Fuchs, began his greatest work, unbeknownst at the time, that would take 35 years to make and it would make him known as “The Third of the German Fathers of Botany (Glasgow, 2002).” During his 35-year span of research, he studied about 497 plants, jotting down their uses, descriptions, and medicinal purposes as well as borrowing research from previous herbals. During this time, Fuchs also grew all of these plants in his own garden, which allowed him to first-hand observe them. This let him create the most accurate drawings of these plants that anyone had ever seen before. Before his first-hand observation, a lot of illustrations of plants in herbals were inaccurate due to people using the same images for various plants or mislabeling them since a lot of people had never actually seen them.
In 1542, Fuchs research was published in Basel, Switzerland by Michael Isingrin as the Historia Stirpium Commentarii Insignes (Notable Commentaries on the History of Plants). An herbal of 896 pages which contained over 511 woodcut illustrations that were illustrated by Albercht Meyer, the illustrations were transferred to woodblocks by Heinrich Füllmaurer, and they were cut and printed by Rudolph Speckle. The book was first published in Latin and Greek, but it was quickly published to German. “During Fuchs' lifetime, the herbal and its various abridgments went through 39 printings in Latin, German, French, Spanish, and Dutch (Stanford University Press, n.d).” It wasn’t until 20 years after he died that it was finally published in English. All of the plants in all editions are organized alphabetically by their Greek names.
This book brought a lot of firsts for its time. It became known as the best-illustrated book of all time by the Stanford University Press, it is regarded as the most beautiful of all printed herbals, and it is the most accurate for identification purposes. It is the very first book to ever publish about plants from the Americas like pumpkin, maize, marigold, potatoes, tobacco, and chili peppers were described for the first time in this book. It is also the very first book to illustrate over 100 species of plants for the first time and the first to include portraits of both the author and the illustrators. Later on, a smaller pocket-sized version of this book was created to improve on the identification of plants out in the field.
As of today, there are only 150 surviving copies, where 54 of them are hand-colored copies of the first edition and 2 of them are a handsome boxed set. The last recorded book to be sold was in 1997 and it was sold for $17,000. Both the University of Cambridge’s Digital Library and the Smithsonian Library provide a digital copy of this book to the public. These digital copies show the beauty of both books in two forms. The University of Cambridge’s copy is a hand painted copy of the book that was donated by King George I, while the Smithsonian’s copy is a regular copy that has not been hand painted.
The Enigma of the Voynich Manuscript
Named after one of the book’s many owners, Wilfrid Voynich, The Voynich Manuscript is a 9x6 inch vellum codex that dates between 1404 and 1438. (1) It is partially damaged with 240 of 272 pages intact, but is otherwise in readable condition. It was hypothesized the book is a type of medicinal guide due to its illustrations of plants, zodiac charts, and various images of women bathing. This manuscript is a famous cryptography case due to its mysterious writing system, only becoming partially deciphered last year. Up until then, armature cryptographers and WW1 and WW2 code breakers have not been able to decipher the text.
The text remains infamous for its many wild hypotheses: was it written by aliens or part of a government conspiracy? Or was the language was completely fabricated by its author? Guesses for its language include Latin, medieval Hebrew, Malay, Arabic, and Amharic. (2)
After hundreds of years of mystery, Amet Ardic, a Canadian researcher, claims the text resembles the Turkish language from his home country and was “written in a poetic, rhythmic method called "Phonemic Orthography" which describes speech visually” (3). Working with his son, he was able to translate one of the manuscript’s many astronomical calendar pages. Months like November are roughly translated into modern Turkish as “Seper Ayi” meaning “moon of rain”.
Folio 67-R depicting the 12 months as a type of astronomical calendar.
Folio 33-v (which depicts two blue blooming flowers surrounded by text) was successfully translated; here are some notable portions:
“…the head of the plant becomes heavy and bends its head to a side and might surprisingly split the stalk.” In the accompanying illustration, you can see a wilting flower below the right flower.
“The taste of the first fruits (nuts) and the attractive appearance of the ornamented crown captivates those buying the plant and takes full control of the buyer (impressing), for even the dying person will remain impressed.”
“The harvester (farmer) cuts the spikes and fills the bag and barn. The buyer weighs it and feels heart warmed (satisfied).” (4)
Folio 33-V depicting three blue flowers, one of them wilted and hidden
Combined “P” and “L” making a visual representation of an “eep” sound, which translates into Turkik as “rope”. The visual depiction is rope-like. The word below translates to “measurements”, meaning the whole word is “rope measurements”.
However, Ardic’s research isn’t free from criticism. It is hypothesized that the manuscript draws from multiple languages, not just Turkish. Another team of Canadian researchers approached this book, this time with AI and Google Translate to help. Using a manmade computer algorithm, the researchers were able to identify 80% of the sampled manuscript pages as Hebrew. When it came time to decipher the phrases, they relied on Google Translate with some luck. However, because the text is written in some form of Medieval Hebrew, and not Modern Hebrew, there is more room for error. The goal of this study was to specifically pinpoint the code and language used in the Voynich Manuscript, not to translate the entire book.
What could be translated and observed by studying the scrip’s illustrations reveals this text is most likely women’s health guide and herbiary. Major portions of the book are dedicated to illustrations of plants that have been identified as “native to or cultivated in the Mediterranean region, in particular, Italy”. (5) Though some of these illustrations have fantasy elements (the roots of the plant in folio 90-V are cats’ bodies), it can be understood that it is some sort of plant guide. The illustrations of round women bathing in green liquid leave more to the imagination, however.
The History of Traditional Chinese Binding
In this research, I would like to talk about some history of binding books in China. As is known to all, China is a country with an ancient civilization. The records of letters appeared as early as 4000 years ago. These letters revolved over a thousand years into the Chinese we use now. Printing, paper making and bindi8ng also evolved over thousands of years. Throughout the history pf the spread of Chinese characters, from oracle to the present, the way of communication has gone through many forms such as oracle bones, bronze, bamboo, silk, carving stones, rubbings, writing and printing. Among them, the oracle bones, bronze and stone carving can be seen the predecessor of books. However, they are not book and they do not have binding.
Jian ce binding is the earliest binding method in the true sense of China. it is a book made of bamboo and wood with holes in it. And all the pieces were connected by ropes. The title was putted in the back of the last bamboo piece. When the Jian ce was rolling up, we can see the title above the book. This kind of binding form were used during Shang and Zhou dynasties. When the paper was made and used in the book, this binding form was replaced by other binding forms.
Then, scroll binding and folded binding went into the history. Scroll binding form consists of four parts, namely, scroll, scroll, and belt. It is similar to Jian ce binding with different materials. The head of a roll is usually attached to a piece of paper or silk called "float", which is tough and unwritten. The head is then tied with a silk "band" to protect and bind the scroll. This kind of binding always used in binding drawing and writing works. Folded binding is a long scroll, along the book space, one back and one positive fold, forming a rectangular fold. The first and last two pages of hard paper binding form. It is totally different from the two binding forms I wrote before. It seems much like the books now. The ancient Buddhists, perhaps influenced by the Buddhist sutra binding from India, prefer to use the folded folder binding.
Then the butterfly binding and back binding appeared. These two binding methods were similar. Butterfly binding is the predecessor of back binding. In the process of long-term reading, the connected part of folding books is often broken. After breaking, there is a situation of one page and one page, which gives people enlightenment, and gradually appears the bookbinding system with pages. It appeared in the late tang dynasty and prevailed in the song dynasty. It is a binding form in which the leaves of the book are arranged according to the middle slit, the printed side is turned in and folded in half. Then the middle slit is used to align the pages of the book, stick to another wrapping paper with paste, and finally cut into a book. When people reading these kind of books, the pages just like butterfly and this is the origin of its name. However, people found that this kind of binding will make book has many white pages. Then, they change the direction of the fold. And this kind of binding is back binding.
Finally, line binding appeared. It is a binding form in which the pages are bound together with the front and back over. It used in the recent hundreds of China.
I really consider the traditional bindings are so amazing and they can bring me ideas to mix them with new things.
A book called: 《中华印刷通史》
Fore-edge Paintings on Manuscripts
By Elizabeth Wheeler
A fore-edge painting can be described as a small but often heavily detailed piece of art that is drawn or painted on the edges of the pages of a book in a manner in which the full image can only be seen when the book is closed and the leaves of the book are fanned out. At first glance on a shelf the book could seem just as ordinary as any other book but by fanning out the leaves and exposing every edge of every page a never before seen image would then appear. There are a variety of forms of fore-edge paintings including, a single for-edge which the painting is on only one side of the book page edges as well as a double fore-edge painting which shows a different image when the book is fanned in either direction. There are also triple fore-edge paintings as well as split double paintings and even more amazing and complicated variations were the leaves would need to be pinched or bent in a particular manner for different scenes to appear!
The history of fore-edge paintings isn't exactly clear, with examples of the style being seen dating as far back at the 10th century. These very early versions were mostly simple images done in gold ink. The first example of the ever popular disappearing fore-edge painting was seen in 1649 and then the easiest one that was signed as dated was a family coat of arms done in 1653 on a 1651 family bible. It was because most fore-edge painter and book binders did not sign their work that we have so much trouble dating the times that these pieces were done. The painting is often an extra that is added on many years after the original binding of the book
The fore-edge painting was often seen on copies of books from personal libraries, done during a time in which having a personal collection of books was a sign of great wealth and people were as you would assume, very protective of their books. It was likely because of this fact that a bit of a legend grew to surround the idea of how the first fore edge painting came to be. It was said that Charles the II who was the King of England, lent a book to a Duchess after having commissioned the court painter to make it so he would always be able to identify his books if needed. After some time, while visiting the Duchess the King noticed his book on herself and pulled it down, preparing to take the book back home with him. The Duchess tried to say that, that particular book was, in fact, hers. The King slyly smiled and spread the leaves of the book to display his coat of arms, painted on the fore edge of the book but completely hidden to the naked eye by the books gilded edges.
In the mid-1700’s we see the images painted on fore-edges begin to evolve from ones that we're simply decorative and into beautiful landscapes and religious scenes, often painted in full color. One of the more infamous people to use this technique was John Brindley. The majority of the books with fore-edge paintings that we have today date from around the late 19th century and into the 20th, Fore-edge paintings continue to be popular and more modern versions depict popular scenes from the books on which they are placed. Fore-edge paintings allow for a little bit of extra hidden mystery to be added to a book. They often cause delight when found and are a wonderful way to include an image in a text-based narrative.
Bromer, Anne C. "Fore Edge Painting - An Introduction". On the Edge: The Hidden Art of Fore-Edge Book Painting. Boston Public Library.
Dutter, Vera, E. "The Ancient Art of Fore-Edge Painting" American Artist, January 1969.
Weber, Carl J. Fore-Edge Painting, A Historical Survey of a Curious Art in Book Decoration. 1966.
In the mid 1700s, books became both more economical and more popular. This caused the movement of books from tables to shelves, upright, and with spines out (Maser 8). In the years between 1750 and 1760, a transition was made between books being a part of small libraries, often with few books stacked on tables, chests or shelves with their fore-edges (pages) visible, to large libraries, whose number of books necessitated the quick identification of a number of books (Maser 8). The trend was reflected in the bindings.
Prior to 1750, books displayed decorated boards and plain spines. After the transition, bindings were decorated on the spines and plain boards were hidden amongst its shelved companions. After this point, the Industrial Revolution makes the process faster and more economic, however, it removes a large portion of the handmade aspects (Maser 19). In the 19th century, books become highly decorated with such things as acid staining and “sprinkling” (Crane 47). Techniques such as “rose paper doubleves” and “border gauffering” come into vogue (Maser 28). Colored, glossy and marble end papers soon follow. Mechanized stamping heralds intricate and complicated designs on the front and back covers (Maser 29-30). By 1850, experimental Victorian binding launches a style epitomize by highly decorated, highly unique and, often garish, bindings (Maser 19-32).
As is the case with many traditions, popularity, industrialization, and mass production reaches a wider audience but at the cost of personalized craftsmanship.
Burdett, Eric. The Craft of Bookbinding: A Practical Handbook. Vancouver: David and Charles Limited, 1975. Print.
Crane, W.I.E. Bookbinding for Amateurs: Being Descriptions of the Various Tools and Appliances Required. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1903. Print.
E Walker et. AL, The Art of Book-Binding, Its Rise and Progress;A Descriptive Account of the New York Book-Bindery. New York: E. Walker and Sons, 1850. Print.
“Eliot Indian Bible.” Digital Collections at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library, UIUC Rare Book & Special Collections Library, 18 Feb. 2002, digital.library.illinois.edu/items/d9031410-0d93-0135-23f6-0050569601ca-6#?cv=0&r=0&xywh=-473%2C1968%2C2393%2C1355.
How Its Made: Traditional Bookbinding. Narrator: Lynn Herzeg. Discovery Channel, 2013. Website Upload.
Marten, John: Director. Traditional Bookbinding Techniques of “A Reformed Druid Anthology.”Independently Filmed, 2013. Website Upload.
Maser, Frederick E. Book Binding in America: 1680-1910. Bryn Mawr: Bryn Mawn College Library, 1983. Print..
The Voynich manuscript
By Christine Beatty
Currently preserved in the Beinecke Rare Book and MS Libarary of Yale University, The Voynich Manuscript is a peculiar item that many have worked to decode and understand for years. Across the pages are various illustrations that appear to be ritualistic as well as nature-based, and the script has been a mystery for much of it’s discovered years. A viewer will find peculiar and almost alien-like plants sprawling the pages, as well as figures of nude women sitting in odd positions with strange contraptions surrounding them.
The first mention of it seems to be from 1639, when Georgius Barschius of Prague wrote to Jesuit Kircher of Rome, mentioning that, “he owned a mysterious book which was written in an unknown script and was profusely illustrated with pictures of plants, stars, and alchemical secrets.” Barschius wrote to Kircher mentioning that his own speculation on the origin is perhaps that it was brought to Europe by a traveller from the Orient, which brings association especially to Leonhard Rauwolf, who collected herbs and plants from his Orient travels. Kircher remained primarily silent on the matter, other than stating he had not figured it out yet, and eventually the manuscript found it’s way to an old castle in Southern Europe, where it was not discovered until 1912 by Wilfrid Voynich. Since Voynich brought the discovery to light, the odd manuscript was given his name.
Despite Voynich's desperate attempts to have the riddle solved, he continued to reach stubborn ends, despite finding out that Kircher's correspondence on the matter was actually a twelve-volume binding. After heavily researching and looking for these volumes, he found an official historian who unfortunately said that they must have been lost, though it is assumed he may not have been at liberty to discuss it. The Voynich Manuscript continued on it’s journey and ended up in the United States in 1915, where true fame reached it in the 1920’s when a new translation was supposedly deciphered by William Romaine Newbold. His thought was that the manuscript was written by Roger Bacon, a man who had reportedly built microscopes and telescopes. This theory was eventually disproven in 1931, and the long journey ended when H.P Kraus, a book antiquarian, was unable to sell it and then donated it to Yale University in 1961.
There are long lists of theories about what the meaning and purpose could be behind the cipher, however, only a select number of discoveries have been made. One significant finding is the carbon dating result, which found it to be leading back to between 1404 and 1438 with 95% confidence. Otherwise one of the most important discoveries came about with great excitement in 2014 when Stephen Bax, a professor of linguistics at the University of Bedfordshire in England, claimed to have deciphered fourteen characters of the script as well as a handful of words. He discussed that he was able to pick out the words regarding herbs and plants next to the drawings, and used historic approaches that have previously been used for Egyptian hieroglyphs.
In discussion of what the manuscript details, there seem to be specific sections, such as an herbal section, astronomical, biological, and even a recipe section. Given all of the peculiar depictions, some of the popular theories say that it is nonsense written on purpose by medieval quack, a prayer book from the Cathars, a string of characters composed by John Dee, or written discoveries by the friar Roger Bacon. It seems however with all of the research put into it, that there is certainly meaning and the answer must be out there. Researchers have found similarities between some of the characters and those in the Latin language, as well as words written not in the normal script but actually in the normal Roman alphabet.
Further detailing the characters of the unknown language, there are many that have high-reaching, vertical lines, which which are referred to as "gallows" characters and are comparable to the dictionary of Capelli. However, the more promising lead lies in early renaissance cipher systems, in which there are striking similarities such as in the codex of Tranchedino that lists sets of ciphers matched to different correspondents. It is also worth noting that it is speculated by Prescott Currier that it was perhaps not just the work of one author, but of two.
In discussion of the physical materials that were used to create the book, the parchment is made of calf-skin, and the cover of goat skin. The quality is not superb, with some undone stitching and even the paper is not of top-grade, however the parchment was prepared very carefully and with great effort. All of the pages are numbered, and the binding has had the paper pastedown removed perhaps for previous observation. There are also various marks and notations made at different times by those who seemingly were trying to decipher the material.
In total, The Voynich Manuscript is a beautiful mystery, which as many have said would not be nearly as valued and intriguing if it were not for the inability to decipher it. Perhaps one day more than fourteen words will be known but until then the theories live on and leave room for many discoveries.
By: Valerie Bullock
For such a modest book, herbals have a history that can be rivaled by few other subjects. Philosophers, clergy, physicians, printers and even sorcerers have each played an instrumental part in creating the genre we would today classify as herbal. The oldest surviving written herbal manuscript is called De materia medica penned by the physician Pedanios Dioscorides of Anazarba. A product of first century Rome it became the fundamental authority on pharmacological knowledge for the next 1500 years including the Dark Ages where much information was lost to Western Europe.
It was not until Pliny the Elder wrote his Naturalis Historia that another herbal hotshot entered the stage. Pliny’s Natural History lists over 33,000 simples in his compilation and includes among them myths, superstitions and rituals that relate to various medical treatments (Anderson, pg. 17). A simple is any basic constituent of medical concoction or remedy (Anderson, pg. 45-46). This includes animal and mineral sources or prayers as ingredients. Along with each simple was information on identification; collection and extraction of their useful properties; and how to apply them to the patient’s ailment (Anderson, pg. 2).
Herbals themselves were written for the most part by philosophers or military physicians, such as Pliny, who had the opportunity to travel and use the various simples therein. Alternatively, herbals were compiled and translated from Arabic to Latin or any other equally difficult to read language by monks, meaning laypeople could not read them let alone use them. There was even conflict between the “respectable” clergy, herbalists and physicians and the lower “root digging” herb collectors whose superstitious methods of collecting aroused ridicule among the higher social strata (Arber, pg. 7). Take an example from a twelfth-century herbal for the proper way to extract a mandrake root: one must “tie a rope around it [the mandrake] and affixing the other end to a hungry dog, then throwing meat to the dog. The animal would pull the mandrake from the ground and would thus suffer its vengeance” (Kieckhefer, pg. 14) Most herbal authors did not lower themselves to the chore of herb collecting, even Pliny is recorded saying that taking a walk was a waste of time. However, ignoring these folk healers also ignores the very roots of herbals themselves. Botanical science and natural magic overlapped quite significantly in Medieval Europe. Contemporary medical theories called for the balance of the four elements within humans which could be done using various herbs and substances all found within an herbal.
Most herbal literature was not created until printing was available, at which point the subject was of particular interest to wealthy physicians and merchants. Until the introduction of the printing press herbals remained the books of learned men. Some of the finest examples of early printing can be found in herbals. Herbals were one of the most popular subjects to be printed and since a standard type replaced the natural variance of written manuscripts it was now possible to cite a specific page and sentence or image within the text. Printed herbals also catalog the development of the art of illustration and of various type faces. Medieval herbals can serve as an index of contemporary presses of Europe such as Aldus, Fust, and Schoeffer; printers and artists such as Hans von Weiditz and Crispin van de Passe (Anderson, pg. 3-4).
Eventually basic medical treatments could be carried out by anybody who could read. No doubt this was a huge step in the general health of the European population. Today however, it will be hard to find an herbal in the medieval sense of the word. A book listing various herbs and their uses will be easy to find, but a book of containing every item of possible medical use along with the folklore and philosophy pertaining to them will be more elusive.
Anderson, Frank J. An Illustrated History of the Herbals. New York. iUniverse. 1997. Print.
Arber, Agnes. Herbals: Their Origin and Evolution. Cambridge, United Kingdom. Cambridge University Press. 1938. Print.
Kieckhefer, Richard. Magic and the Middle Ages. Cambridge, United Kingdom. Cambridge University Press. 1989, 2000. Print.