verso
Identification and Creation
Object Number
2002.50.140
Title
Fineleaf Fumitory Folio from a manuscript of Khawass al-ashjar (De materia medica) by Dioscorides
Classification
Manuscripts
Work Type
manuscript folio
Date
13th century
Culture
Persian
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/146678
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Ink and opaque watercolor on paper
Dimensions
29.7 x 20 cm (11 11/16 x 7 7/8 in.)
Provenance
Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (by 1998-2002), gift; to Harvard Art Museums, 2002.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art
Accession Year
2002
Object Number
2002.50.140
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
De materia medica, the great treatise on the therapeutic properties of natural substances —plants, minerals, and animals—was written, probably during the third quarter of the first century BCE, by Dioscorides Pedanius, a Greek author from Anzarba (now Anavarza), in southeastern Turkey. This folio probably once belonged to a now-fragmentary and dispersed manuscript known as the Vignier-Densmore Dioscorides.
Containing most of Book III of the treatise and parts of the remaining books, the known folios of this manuscript preserve neither colophon nor date. Characteristics of the Vignier-Densmore manuscript include the letter sin written with three diacritical dots below it; fifteen to seventeen lines of text per page; the loss of, or damage to, the outer bottom corners of the folios; a purplish-black discoloration of the paper caused by the ink bleeding through from the opposite side; and Western-style numbering in the outer top corners.
The stylized image follows the conventions of herbal illustration in depicting the plant from leaf tips to bare roots. The rubric qafunus identifies the plant as fineleaf fumitory (Fumaria parvifolia), which, according to the text, has small, grayish leaves and purple flowers; its sharp juice makes the eyes water and, when mixed with glue, can be used to discourage the growth of eyebrows. When eaten, the herb causes the patient to excrete bile.

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
62

Fineleaf Fumitory Folio from a manuscript of Khawāṣṣ al-ashjār (De materia medica) by Dioscorides
Recto: text and illustration of rupturewort and an unidentified plant
Verso: text and illustration of fineleaf fumitory
Iraq, 13th century
Ink and opaque watercolor on paper
Folio: 29.7 × 20.2 cm (1111/16 × 7 15/16 in.)
2002.50.140

De materia medica, the great treatise on the therapeutic properties of natural substances—plants, minerals, and animals—was written, probably during the third quarter of the first century BCE, by Dioscorides Pedanius, a Greek author from Anzarba (now Anavarza), in southeastern Turkey.[1] Originally comprising some 1,007 chapters, the text was rearranged and supplemented over the centuries as it was translated into several languages and copied across Western Europe and the Middle East, where, until the end of the sixteenth century, it served as the basis for pharmaceutical and herbal writing. First translated into Arabic in the ninth century, Dioscorides’ treatise became one of the most frequently copied books in Islamic lands, laying a foundation for the further work of Muslim physicians, scientists, and pharmacists.

This folio probably once belonged to a now-fragmentary and dispersed manuscript known as the Vignier-Densmore
Dioscorides.[2] Containing most of Book III of the treatise and parts of the remaining books, the known folios of this manuscript preserve neither colophon nor date. Characteristics of the Vignier-Densmore manuscript include the letter sīn written with three diacritical dots below it; fifteen to seventeen lines of text per page; the loss of, or damage to, the outer bottom corners of the folios; a purplish-black discoloration of the paper caused by the ink bleeding through from the opposite side; and Western-style numbering in the outer top corners.[3]

The stylized image follows the conventions of herbal illustration in depicting the plant from leaf tips to bare roots. The rubric qāfunūs identifies the plant as fineleaf fumitory (Fumaria parvifolia), which, according to the text, has small, grayish leaves and purple flowers; its sharp juice makes the eyes water and, when mixed with glue, can be used to discourage the growth of eyebrows. When eaten, the herb causes the patient to excrete bile.[4]

Mary McWilliams

[1] Titled Peri hylēs iatrikēs in the original Greek, Dioscorides’ treatise is best known in modern literature by the title of the sixth-century Latin translation, De materia medica (The Materials of Medicine). An introduction to the immense scholarly literature on Dioscorides can be found in the footnotes to Touwaide 2009, 557–80.
[2] I am grateful to Alain Touwaide (Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions, Washington, DC) for identifying the Calderwood folio with the Vignier-Densmore Dioscorides. Touwaide is researching the history of this manuscript for future publication. See also Sadek 1983, 18; Grube 1959, 179–80, fig. 18. According to Sadek and Grube, the bulk of the manuscript was formerly on loan to the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris (collection particulière). Whatever the case, folios of the manuscript are now in several collections across the world. Grube lists additional bibliography for some of the dispersed folios.
[3] The following thirteen folios appear to be dispersed from the same manuscript: Aga Khan Collection, Toronto (five folios, A.M. 2/A–E); Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (two folios, 65.271.1, 65.271.2); private collection, Princeton; University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor (1957/2.1); Walters Art Museum,
Baltimore (Ms. W 750, four consecutive folios).
[4] For the translation of the rubric and the summary of the Arabic text, I am grateful to Wasmaʾa Chorbachi and Nawal Nasrallah. For the place of this plant in other Arabic Dioscorides manuscripts, see the Table of Concordance in Sadek 1983, 113.

Publication History

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), pp. 214-215, cat. 62, ill.

Exhibition History

In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2013 - 06/01/2013

32Q: 2550 Islamic, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/07/2018 - 04/17/2019

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu