Illustrations of Carrots in Ancient Manuscripts or Early Printed Books
This page takes a detailed look at how carrots were illustrated in some of the famous
Materia Medica Manuscripts and Early Printed Books.
(most images have a larger version, please check the hyperlinks)
© Important Copyright Notice: Copyright 1996-2012 World Carrot Museum. All rights reserved.
Any unauthorised copying or reproduction will constitute an infringement of copyright.
A manuscript is hand written information that has been manually created by one or more people, as opposed to being printed or reproduced some other way. The term may also be used for information that is hand-recorded in other ways than writing, for example inscriptions that are chiselled upon a hard material or scratched (the original meaning of graffiti) as with a knife point in plaster or with a stylus on a waxed tablet (the way Romans made notes), or are in cuneiform writing, impressed with a pointed stylus in a flat tablet of unbaked clay.
Colours in illustrations obviously degrade over time depending on such factors as type and availability of materials used and storage methods. If then you also factor in personal artistic interpretation, the colours we currently see in manuscripts and hand coloured books may well have changed over time and cannot be regarded a definitive. Another point to bear in mind is that many manuscripts are copies, or interpretations of earlier manuscripts.
The above-ground parts of plants tend to be showy, but often the roots are hidden from view. Though roots are endowed with the beauty of nature, they are enmeshed with the mystery of the unknown. Roots have been both a boon and hazard to humans. They have been used as drugs and poisons and as food. They have been the sources of comfort in myths of fairies and forest nymphs, as well as a source of fear in popular legends of devils and curses. A rich association has existed between people and roots throughout and before the development of "civilized" societies. This relationship was most often one of dependence on roots as a source of food, then medicine. But sometimes because of their appearance, colour, odour or actual chemical properties roots were given a special importance by ancient peoples.
Herbals are a particularly interesting group in the history of written communication in that they have always been in circulation since the antiquities and were not 'rediscovered' during the Renaissance.
Despite the faithful transcription of the manuscript text by monastic scribes, distortions inevitably crept in as the work passed from one hand to the next. Greater variation exists among the illustrations which were often painted without reference to the living world. Regional variation in both plant types and knowledge as well as differences in editorial control also contributed over a thousand years of copying to a body of herbal manuscripts deriving from a few ancient sources.
This all makes for a complex history but there are two lines or branches generally identified in classifying the lineage of a herbal. Perhaps the most important is the five volume pharmacopoeia/herbal, 'De Materia Medica' by Dioscorides from the first century AD, which represents the Greek/Arabic tradition. This work also supplies much of the textual origin for the other branch, the latin tradition, referred to as Pseudo-Apuleius (sometimes called Apuleius Platonic, to distinguish him or them from a number of other authors from the middle ages called Apuleius). The original Pseudo-Apuleius Herbal was produced in about the 5th century AD.
Early handwritten herbals were often illustrated with paintings and drawings. Like other manuscript books, herbals were "published" through repeated copying by hand, either by professional scribes or by the readers themselves. In the process of making a copy, the copyist would often translate, expand, adapt, or reorder the content. Most of the original herbals have been lost; many have survived only as later copies (of copies of copies!), and many others are known only through references from other texts. They tend to follow the same pattern - the plant's physical appearance, smell, taste and natural habitat, followed by a discussion on any known medicinal qualities, culinary virtues, and then any useful products obtained from the plants roots, leaves, seeds or flowers. Sadly colour variations (of carrot) were rarely described until much later.
European herbal medicine is rooted in the works of classical writers such as Pliny the Elder who wrote Historia Naturalis (here); and Dioscorides (here), a Greek physician and author of the first known illustrated guide to medicinal plants whose De Materia Medica (78 C. E.) formed the basis of herbals in Europe for 1,500 years and the most influential herbal of all time.
For most of human history, people have relied on herbalism for at least some of their medicinal needs, and this remains true for more than half of the world's population in the twenty-first century. Much of our modern pharmacopoeia also has its roots in the historical knowledge of medicinal plants.
AD 512 The Greek Herbal of Dioscorides: Illustrated by a Byzantine A.D. 512. - First reference to Orange Carrot - Dioskorides Codex Vindobonensis Medicus Greacus. (Austrian facsimiles from 1965, together with commentary - studied at the Royal Botanical Gardens Library, Kew Gardens, England).
Three "orange carrots" are depicted:
There are many surviving manuscripts of De Materia Medica after Codex Vindobonensis, an important example being the seventh-century Greek alphabetic Codex Neapolitanus, in the possession of a Neapolitan monastery for many years, and then presented to Emperor Charles VI in 1717. It was taken to Vienna and subsequently to the Bibliotheca Nazionale in Naples. Some of the drawings in Codex Neapolitanus are thought to be from the same source as Codex Vindobonensis, but are smaller and grouped together on fewer pages.
The Old English Herbarium (late10th C) takes its material from Pliny and other Latin compilations and cites uses for carrot:
Morgan Manuscript MS652, - written in Greek miniscule and illuminated in Constantinople during the mid-10th century, contains an alphabetical five-book version of Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, including 769 illustrations, Constantinople around ad 960. (Images courtesy of Morgan Pierpoint Library, New York)
Bodleian Scripts - 11th Century
The late 11th century witnessed an intriguing script from Bury St Edmonds in England - MS Bodley 130 - a handwritten manuscript containing a copy of a much earlier Latin text; its illustrations are similarly inherited. The original illustrated text had been compiled in the late Roman period (4th or 5th century) relying on Greek sources.
Known as "Pseudo.-Apuleius, Dioscorides, Herbals (extracts); De virtutibus bestiarum in arte medicinae, in Latin and English", St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury; c. 1070-1100. This apparently shows a diagram of an orange carrot, which, according to most other historical records did not appear until the 15th century. So another mystery in the origins of modern carrot.
"The script indicated that It grows in stony places and mounds." and "For women who suffer at childbirth and are not purged. - With 'Herba pastinaca', cooked, together with the same water in which it was cooked, you take 30 peppercorns; mix together and give to drink; she will be purged.
The same recipe as written above also works against
Much more background information, including a full translation of the script together with a larger photo are included on a separate page here.
Important Copyright Notice:
The image (left) appears with the kind permission of the Bodleian Library and is copyright and any use is restricted by law. Any unauthorised copying or reproduction will constitute an infringement of copyright.
The script is held by the Bodleian Library of Oxford University as part of its collection of illuminated mediaeval manuscripts.
Similar scripts - MS. Ashmole 1462 and MS Ashmole 1431 contain the same Pseudo-Apuleian text as MS. Bodl. 130, though with some slight variations in wording.
You will notice a typo! "Pasnatica" instead of "Pastinaca" - a typical transcription error in such scripts. This again gives a remedy for toothache. Otherwise the same recipes and place names as in the MS Bodley script referred to above.
The carrot leaves and flower do look quite accurate and no doubt orange is the root colour! Click on photos for full picture - note this a large file and will take a while to download.
Adam Lonitzer - Frankfurt 1582 - A further very early manuscript clearly shows an orange root, from Germany.
Adam Lonitzer a German botanist, noted for his 1577 revised version of Eucharius
Rösslin's herbal, wrote Kreuterbuch including - "Pastenachen Mören
Pastinaca sativa, & sylvestris".
(Photo, compliments of the Smithsonian Digital Collection of Early manuscripts.)
Images from 1485 - Herbarius. Patauie impressus : Johann Petri.
Entitled "Of the Virtues of Herbs".
Original in Harvard University Library.
|Pastinaca Wildmoren - Wild Carrot||Pastinaca Domesticus Moren - Domestic Carrot||Daucus Creticus fogelnest - Cretan Carrot Bird's Nest|
Leonhart Fuchs 1542 - The author of the Historia Stirpium, (On the History of Plants) Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566), is known as the third of the German fathers of Botany, after Otto Brunfels and Jerome Bock. In fact, Fuchs work was greatly inspired by the Herbarum vivae icones(1530-6) of Brunfels; based upon personal observation, Brunfels work was pioneering in dramatically changing the quality of botanical illustration. Fuchs' great herbal, however, was conceived on a much larger scale than the herb books of his immediate predecessors.
Like most botanical books of its time, “Fuchs’ Herbal” (as it is commonly known) consists largely of “commentaries” on Dioscorides. His aim was to reproduce each plant from life, and he stated in his dedicatory epistle that this was done for no other reason than that 'a picture expresses things more surely and fixes them more deeply in the mind than the bare words of the text'. Each illustration was therefore based upon the appearance of the living plant; furthermore, 'we have not allowed the craftsmen so to indulge their whims as to cause the drawing not to correspond accurately to the truth'.
Fuchs in 1542 described, in Latin, red and yellow garden carrots and wild carrots, but names them all Pastinaca. Fuchs illustrates red and yellow carrots, although the red is definitely shaded towards purple.
Rembert Dodoens (1517-1585)
The famous Flemish physician and botanist Rembertus Dodonaeus is best known for his herbal Cruydeboeck (more
precisely: Cruijdeboeck, as the title is printed on the title page), written in old Flemish and published in 1554.
The scans shown below were made from a coloured copy, which is in the library of the Rijksmuseum in
Amsterdam, Holland. All wood cuts, initials of the chapters and title pages are
hand coloured, by the Dutch artist Hans Liefrinck (1520-1573). (click on image for full page version)
|It was illustrated by 715 woodcuts of plants, including
many copies from those in the Fuch's herbal. Dodoens' used Fuchs as his model
for the description of each plant. The method of arrangement is his own. He
indicates the localities and times of flowering in the Low Countries,
information that could not have been derived from an earlier writer.
It is written in Latin and later translated and enhanced by Henry Lyte (below). Also much of Dodoens work is repeated by Gerard's translation (also below).
The Kinds - There be three sortes of Carrots, yealow and red whereof two be tame of the garden, the third is wild growing of it selfe.
The Description -
1.The yealow Carrot hath dark greene leaves, all cut and hackt almost like the leaves of Chervil, but a great deal browner, larger, stronger, and smaller cut. The root is thicke and long, yealow both without and within and is used to be eaten in meates.
2. The red Carrot is like to the aforesaid in the cuts of his leaves, and in stalks, flowers and seed. The root is likewise long and thicke, but of a purple red colour both within and without.
3. The wilde is not much unlike garden Carrot, in leaves stalks and flowers, saving the leaves be a little rougher, and not so much cut or jagged. In the middle of the flowry tufts amongst the white flowers groweth one or two little purple marks or specks. The seede is rougher and the root smaller and harder than the other Carrots.
The Place - 1 & 2 the manured or tamed Carrot is sowne in gardens; 3 the wild groweth in the borders of fields, by high waies & paths, and in rough untoiled places.
The Time -Carrots do flower in June and July, and their seed is ripe in August.
He went on to describe its vertues which included, "cleaning evil blood"; "seeds to provoketh urine"; "this root hath the power to increase love".
The roots made into powder helped the "liver, spleen, kidnies and guarded against gravel".
Wild Carrot provoketh womens flowers, and drunk with wine helped in childbirth. It also good against venom and the bitings & stings of venomous beasts.
The greene leaves of Carrots "boiled with honey and laid to, do cleanse and mundifie (purify) uncleane and fretting sores" (- a type of poultice)
The original Generall Historie of Plantes of 1597 containing the description, times, places, nature and vertues of all sorts of Herbs for meate, medicine, or sweet smelling use.
John Gerard’s “Herbal or General History of Plants” has long been considered one of the most famous of English herbals. First published in 1597, it was republished in 1633 revised and enlarged by Thomas Johnson in an edition that retained much of the original Elizabethan text. The 1633 edition contains some 2850 descriptions of plants and about 2700 illustrations.
Stinking and Deadly Carrots - both the plant Thapsia, a relative
|German Herbal Carrot No date. Ca.
Single woodcut (approximately 5 x 3 inches), hand coloured, on single sheet 8 1/2 x 14 inches, two woodcuts and text on verso.
Beautifully designed and executed wood cut of carrot plant, showing flowers, fruit, roots.
Colouring appears to be early hand colour, simple and carefully done.
Page 131 from an unidentified old German language (fraktur) herbal, possibly Mattioli?s "Kreuterbuch ...."
(Jacob Fischer, Frankfurt am Main, 1611) a German version of his "Pedacii Dioscoridis de materia medica libri sex" first published in Venice 1558.
(Click Image for larger version)
|A curious herbal, containing five hundred cuts, of the
most useful plants, which are now used in the practice of physick :
engraved on folio copper plates, after drawings taken from the life / by
Elizabeth Blackwell. To which is added a short description of ye plants
and their common uses in physick.
The Herbal was issued in weekly parts between 1737 and 1739, each part containing four illustrated plates and a page of text. It was highly praised by leading physicians and apothecaries (makers and sellers of medicines), and made enough money to secure her husband's freedom.
And finally ... The bizarre Voynich Manuscript - described as an elegant enigma and the most mysterious book in the world, and "A Textbook of Medieval Plant Physiology" - has long been noted that some of the Voynich botanical illustrations suggest carrots.
The Voynich manuscript, written in a mysterious cipher and illustrated in a herbal-like form with stylized paintings of bizarre, unidentifiable plants, remains to this day one of the most enduring enigmas of the medieval period (Kennedy and Churchill, 2004). Discovered in 1912 by the antiquarian book dealer Wilfred M. Voynich, the vellum codex has since attracted legions of cryptoanalysts and history sleuths (but unfortunately few professional botanists) dedicated to unlocking its secrets.
Note the Carrot Museum does not endorse or agree with the assumptions and assignment of carrot to any of the images or text, but provides the information given below as a matter of interest only. Neither the leaf nor root depictions show little or no similarity with Daucus Carota. In fact it appears that the manuscript has not been properly examined by an academic botanist! The script contains many somewhat carrot shaped, orange/brown colored roots that one could forward a tenuous argument for several images being carrot. Until someone in authority can come forward with a reliable decoding and translation of the mystery script it is remains difficult to treat it seriously.
The Voynich manuscript is a handwritten book thought to have been written in the early 15th century and comprising about 240 vellum pages, most with illustrations. Although many possible authors have been proposed, the author, script, and language remain unknown. It has been described as "the world's most mysterious manuscript". Read more here.(Wikipedia) and here (University of Southern Califonia, pdf). Neither the author nor the place of origin of the MS has been be established so the mystery remains. It has, however, been confirmed that this is a real mystery, not a modern forgery.
Generally presumed to be some kind of ciphertext, the Voynich manuscript has been studied by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including American and British codebreakers . Yet it has defied all decipherment attempts, becoming a historical cryptology cause célčbre. The mystery surrounding it has excited the popular imagination, making the manuscript a subject of both fanciful theories and novels.
In 2009, University of Arizona researchers performed Carbon14 dating on the manuscript's vellum, which they assert (with 95% confidence) was made between 1404 and 1438. In addition, the McCrone Research Institute in Chicago found that much of the ink was added not long afterwards, confirming that the manuscript is an authentic medieval document.
The item shown right, from folio 102v is often quoted as carrot. Please make up your own mind!
The bizarre features of the Voynich manuscript text (such as the doubled and tripled words), the suspicious contents of its illustrations (such as the chimeric plants) and its lack of historical reference support the idea that the manuscript is a hoax. In other words, if no one is able to extract meaning from the book, perhaps this is because the document contains no meaningful content in the first place.
One website gives a set of plausible coincidences, or strong evidence (depending on how gullible you are) that Voynich MS words beginning “ok-” are enciphered from Latin words beginning “ca-”. Note that it is VERY likely that in the 15thC the term for carrot would probably have been Daucus!.
The three plants labelled “okae89″, show similarities. The one on f101v2 is said
very much like a carrot, and the other two could also be carrots:
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