Checklist for " Ornaments "

Curated by guest curator Jennifer M. Bauman, Ph.D,  and Luise Poulton, 2003

Digital Exhibition produced by Lyuba Basin, 2020


FACSIMILES ARE METICULOUS REPRODUCTIONS THAT CONVEY THE SPIRIT AND POWER OF OFTEN-INACCESSIBLE, ORIGINAL BOOKS. Through the art of the facsimile, many of the most beautiful books ever made may be appreciated by audiences the world over. In particular, facsimiles of handmade, one-of-a-kind medieval manuscripts allow student and connoisseur alike to revel in the details of the magnificent work of medieval bookmakers. Visual feasts, the reproductions themselves are so lovingly created, carefully crafted, and faithful to the originals that they may be appreciated in their own right as tributes to the art of book production. 

THE FACSIMILES IN THIS EXHIBITION REPRODUCE BOOKS THAT DATE FROM THE EARLY MIDDLE AGES THROUGH THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY. They range in subject from literary works and religious texts to herbals, travel books, astrological treatises, health manuals, and artists’ workshop books. The majority of these manuscripts were illustrated with color using techniques specifically devised for illuminating books. In fact, illumination became so highly developed and valued that monarchs and other rulers commissioned luxuriously illuminated book as items of display and prestige. Many of the books were so lavishly decorated that the text itself became almost incidental to the painted ornamentation.

A FACSIMILE IS AN EXACT REPLICA OF AN ORIGINAL BOOK. The word “facsimile” comes from Latin, meaning to “make the same.” The starting point of the facsimile is the original manuscript. The facsimile is a faithful copy of that unique original. The facsimiles presented here from the Marriott Library’s rare book collections are works of great artistry in book production. They have been handcrafted with the utmost care and attention to detail to achieve precise copies. The process of creating a facsimile is a lengthy one. The traditional methods used to create the original work are researched and then replicated with both state-of-the-art electronic processes and conventional techniques, employed by highly skilled bookmakers. Each book is approached individually in order to successfully duplicate the format, tone and color, unique to each work. The actual condition of the original book is respected. Water damage, tears, discoloration, uneven pages, etc., are re-created without changing, adding to, or enhancing the condition of the book in any way. No cost can be spared to achieve an exact replica. Bindings are handcrafted to faithfully duplicate things such as the original type of leather or fabric used, as well as any clasps, fasteners, gilding, and embossing. Because facsimile production is such a painstaking process, editions are necessarily expensive and limited. The Marriott Library is among the few libraries in the world to own many of these beautiful books.


Vergilius Vaticanus, two bulls

Virgil, c. 400
Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica, Vat. lat. 3225
Graz: Akeademische Druck-u. Verlagsanstalt, c. 1984
Z114 V3 1984b

The Vatican Virgil is one of the earliest known Roman manuscripts to survive from antiquity. The manuscript in its original form consisted of approximately four hundred-thirty folios. In its present fragmentary state, only seventy-five leaves still exist. The surviving leaves contain parts of Virgil’s Georgics and the Aeneid, written throughout by one hand, in Roman rustic capitals. The book as it exists today contains fifty full-page miniatures, and a series of smaller miniatures interspersed with the text. Altogether there are nine illustrations of the Georgics and forty-one of the Aeneid. The miniatures are uneven in quality and were clearly executed by more than one artist, possibly as many as four.

The illuminator of the Georgics was the superior artist of the whole series. His pastoral pictures give the viewer a sense of the beauty of Virgil’s poetry, expressing with his graceful figures, in this scene of two jealous bulls fighting. The dynamic brute force of the animals is placed in stark contrast to the object of their quarrel, a beautiful cow, with a noticeably demure personality to the left. The scene, which takes place in Sila in the Appenines, is set against a lovely rose-tinted sky that turns to blue. On the right, the bull that has been defeated is shown charging toward the trunk of a tree, with the fierce energy of a thwarted lover. 

Aratea, Daughters

Claudius Caesar Germanicus, ninth century
Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, Ms. Voss. Lat. Q. 79
Lucerne: Faksimile-Verlag, c. 1987
PA6392 G3 P5 1987

The Aratea is the title given to a series of astronomical manuscripts based on the Phainomena, a Greek didactic poem by Aratus of Soli (around 315 to 245 BC), describing the constellations and weather signs. Aratus’ work achieved great popularity in ancient Rome. It was translated into Latin by Claudius Caesar Germanicus. In that form, it was read during the Middle Ages as a source of information regarding the heavens.

The manuscript reproduced here was created during the Carolingian period in the area known today as the Lorraine region of France. It is thought that it was created for the Empress Judith, the second wife of Emperor Louis the Pious (814-840). 

The book contains ninety-five leaves, with thirty-nine full-page miniatures, of very high quality and artistic merit. The identity of the artist who painted the miniatures is unknown. It is believed, however, that whoever it was relied heavily on what must have been a fourth-century manuscript, for the illustrations are very close to the style of Late Antique painting. The boldly colored miniatures depict personified representations of celestial bodies to illustrate the text, which is written in Capitalis Rustica on the page opposite. All of the figures appear against a dark blue night sky, with the stars painted in gold. 

In the miniature above, the artist has depicted the daughters of Atlas and the nymph Pleione, all of whom were transformed into the Pleiades. The related text referring to the Pleiades describes the stars in the following way, “Seven they number, yet one is plucked away,/When failing eye fails to separate their tiny bodies.” The figure in the middle is presumbably the concealed star Merope (i.e. the one who is “plucked away”). Her head is veiled to illustrate how she hid out of shame for falling in love with the mortal Sisyphus. 


Dioscorides, Mandrake

Pedanius Dioscorides, early seventh century
Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale, Ms. Ex Vindob. Gr. 1.
Graz: Akademsiche Druck-u Verlagsanstalt, 1988
R126 D57 1988

Pedanius Dioscorides was a Greek military surgeon of the first century AD. His herbal, known as the De materia medica, first established medical botany as an applied science. The original work described the properties of around six hundred plants and some animal products that were known to have therapeutic value. This book remained the main source on which other herbals drew for over fifteen hundred years. What made Dioscorides’ work particularly valuable was its succinct accounts of the plants described (which was a real necessity if one were to avoid being poisoned.)

In Chapter thirteen of his work, Dioscorides writes, “Now it behooves anyone who desires to be a skillful herbalist to be present when the plants first shoot out of the earth, when they are fully grown, and when they begin to fade. For he who is only present at the budding of the herb cannot know it when full-grown, nor can he who hath examined a full-grown herb recognize it when it has only just appeared above ground. 

All illustrated herbals of the Middle Ages and Renaissance trace their descent from the famous sixth-century manuscript of Dioscorides’ text  in the National Library in Vienna (Cod. Med. Graec.1). The manuscript here in facsimile form, dating to the seventh century, is no exception. Over four hundred plants are described and illustrated in color. For clarity, the name of the plant is identified in red ink. The beauty of the plants accompanying the descriptions of the text was rarely equaled in herbal illustration until the Renaissance.

The binding of the facsimile is made of wooden covers and leather in accordance with the original.

Open Chat
 Last Modified 5/25/23