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Hortus Sanitatis

( Originally Published 1912 )

The third of the fundamental botanical works, produced at Mainz towards the close of the fifteenth century, was the Hortus,' or as it is more commonly called ` Ortus Sanitatis,' printed by Jacob Meydenbach in 1491. It is in part a modified Latin translation of the German Herbarius, but it is not merely this, for it contains treatises on animals, birds, fishes and stones, which are almost unrepresented in the Herbarius. Nearly one-third of the figures of herbs are new. The rest are copied on a reduced scale from the German Herbarius, and the drawing, which is by no means improved, often shows that the copyist did not fully understand the nature of the object he was attempting to portray. As an example of a wood-cut, which has lost much of its character in copying, we may take the Dodder.

The Ortus Sanitatis is very rich in pictures. The first edition opens with a full-page wood-cut, modified from that at the beginning of the German Herbarius, and representing a group of figures, who appear to be engaged in discussing some medical or botanical problem. Before the treatise on Animals, there is another large engraving of three figures with a number of beasts at their feet, and before that on Birds, there is a lively picture with an architectural back-ground, showing a scene which swarms with innumerable birds of all kinds, whose peculiarities are apparently being discussed by two savants in the foreground. The treatise on Fishes begins with a landscape with water, enlivened by shipping. There are two figures in the foreground, and in the water, fishes, crabs and mythical monsters such as mermen, are seen disporting themselves. Before the treatise on Stones, there is a very spirited scene representing a number of figures in a jeweller's shop, and two large wood-cuts of doctors and their patients illustrate the medical portion with which the book concludes.

The treatise on Plants is considerably modified from the German Herbarius, and the virtues of the herbs described are dealt with at greater length. The Herbarium of Apuleius Platonicus is more than once quoted, though not by name. A number of new illustrations are added, some of which are highly imaginative. The Tree of Life (Text fig. 12) and the Tree of Knowledge are dealt with amongst other botanical objects, a woman-headed serpent being introduced in the first case, and Adam and Eve in the second. There is a beautiful description of the virtues of the Tree of Life, in which we read that he who should eat of the fruit " should be clothed with blessed immortality, and should not be fatigued with infirmity, or anxiety, or lassitude, or weariness of trouble." The engraving which is named Narcissus (Text-fig. 13) has diminutive figures emerging from the flowers, like a transformation scene at a pantomime ! It is probably, however, intended to represent the conversion of the beautiful youth, Narcissus, into a flower. Apart from these mythological subjects, there are a number of very curious engravings. A tree called "Bausor," for instance, which was believed to exhale a narcotic poison, like the fabulous Upas tree, has two men lying beneath its shade, apparently in the sleep of death.

Among the herbs, substances such as starch, vinegar, cheese, soap, etc., are included, and as these do not lend themselves to direct representation, they become the excuse for a delightful set of genre pictures. " Wine " is illustrated by a man gazing at a glass ; "Bread," by a housewife with loaves on the table before her (Text-fig. 15) ; "Water," by a fountain; "Honey," by a boy who seems to be extracting it from the comb ; and "Milk," by a woman milking a cow. The picture which appears under the heading of Amber shows great ingenuity (Text-fig. 16). The writer points out that this substance, according to some authors, is the fruit or gum of a tree growing by the sea, while according to others it is produced by a fish or by sea foam. In order to represent all these possibilities, the figure shows the sea, indicated in a conventional fashion, with a tree growing out of it, and a fish swimming in it. The writer of the Ortus Sanitatis, on the other hand, holds the opinion that Amber is generated under the sea, after the manner of the Fungi which arise on land.

The treatises on animals and fishes are full of pictures of mythical creatures, such as a unicorn being caressed by a lady as though it were a little dog (Text-fig. i 7), recalling the " Lady and Unicorn " tapestry in the Musée Cluny—a fight between a man and hydras—the phoenix in the flames and a harpy with its claws in a man's body. Other monsters which are figured include a dragon, the Basilisk, Pegasus, and a bird with a long neck which is tied in an ornamental knot.

Later Latin editions of the Ortus Sanitatis were printed in Germany and Italy, and translations were also popular. The part of the book dealing with animals and stones was produced in German under the name of ` Gart der Gesuntheit ; zu Latin Ortus Sanitatis,' so as to form a supplement to the German Herbarius, which dealt, as we have seen, almost exclusively with herbs. No really complete translation of the Hortus was ever published, except that printed by Antoine Vérard in Paris about the year 1500, under the title, ` Ortus sanitatis translate de latin en francois.' Henry VII was one of Vérard's patrons, and in the account books of John Heron, Treasurer of the Chamber, which are preserved at the Record Office, there is an entry (1501—2) which runs, " Item to Anthony Vérard for two bokes called the gardyn of helth...6 pounds." This refers to a copy, in two parts, of Vérard's translation of the Ortus Sanitatis, which is still preserved in the British Museum.

The complete Ortus Sanitatis made its appearance for the last time as ` Le Jardin de Santé,' printed by Philippe le Noir about 1539, and sold in Paris, "a lenseigne de la Rose blanche couronnee." Text-fig. 18, taken from this book, shows how the artist of the period represented a " Garden of Health."

The title-pages of the early herbals were often decorated with such pictures. A more ambitious example is reproduced in Text-fig. 113. In this case the apothecary's store-room is also depicted, and a housewife is portrayed, laying fragrant herbs among linen. The small garden scene on the title-page of the `Grete Herball' (1526) is of special interest, since it includes representations of the male and female Mandrake (Text-fig. 112).

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