Vienna Dioscurides

Anicia Juliana

Constantinople, shortly before 512
Parchment, 491 folia
Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna


This is the most celebrated copy of De materia medica. It was commissioned as a presentation copy for Juliana Anicia - daughter of Flavius Anicius Olybrius, who was emperor for part of the year 972 - by the citizens of the city of Honoratiae in gratitude for her donation of a church in their town. The manuscript is now missing some of its leaves. 
Around 65 AD, the physician and pharmacologist Dioscurides of Anazarbos wrote De materia medica. It is essentially a list of the medicinal uses of hundreds of plants. The text remained fundamental to Byzantine pharmacology. Like other much-used text, it was rearranged for ease of use in later centuries – in this case the text have been alphabetized, with an alphabetical index added at the beginning of the manuscript.
The codex begins with a series of richly framed portraits. On fols. 2v and 3v are twin groups of physicians and pharmacist, including Xenocrates, Galen, Crateaus, and Dioscurides, seated as if captured in a lively discussion. On fol. 4v Heuresis, the personification of discovery, holds up a mandrake to the author Dioscurides, while she gestures toward a mortally bedeviled dog, the animal used to extract the dangerous plant from the earth. In the following miniature, fol. 5v, Dioscurides is seated at the right examining a text on his lap. In the center, the personification Thought or Design, Epinoia, holds up the mandrake for a painter to reproduce. These miniatures elegantly express the author's reliance on earlier sources, as well as his own contribution to natural science. On fol. 6v is the final portrait of Anicia —the first surviving dedication miniature. Again, personifications enrich the image; for example, Magnanimity and Wisdom flank the stiffly posed princess. 
The text of the manuscript, while mainly devoted to Dioscurides’ De materia medica, also contains other works. It sometimes assumed that the majority of the plant pictures were not invented for this manuscript but instead follow earlier models. However the illustration of these texts reveals the growing artistic awareness of the decorative potential of the codex form over that of the roll—the original form of these writings. Entire pages are given over to superb representations of individual plants. 
In the fourteenth century, it used by the monk Neophytes of the monastery of the Prodromos of Petra in Constantinople. In 1569, it sold to Emperor Maximilian II by the son of Hamon, physician to Sultan Suleiman II.

Heuresis and Dioscurides

Coral

Group of Physicians

Wild blackberry

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016