“De Materia Medica” by Dioscorides


This book exemplifies the transfer of knowledge across the centuries. During the first century, the Greek doctor and apothecary Dioscorides, who is considered the father of pharmacology, wrote a very important document on botany and pharmaceuticals. In the 10th century, during the times of ʻAbd al-Rahman III (891−961), caliph of Cordova, the work was translated into Arabic. In 1518 at the Escuela de Traductores de Toledo (the School of Translators of Toledo), Antonio de Nebrija made the first translation of the work in Spain into Latin. In 1555 in the city of Antwerp (present-day Belgium, then ruled by Spain), the publisher Juan Lacio (circa 1524–66) published a Spanish translation from the Latin, which was done by Andrés Laguna, the doctor of the Pope Julius III. On his frequent trips to Rome, Laguna consulted a variety of codices as well as the books on medicinal plants produced in Venice by the herbalist Pietro Andrea Matthioli. This version of the book continued to be edited and perfected until mid-18th century, and in the 19th century a facsimile copy was produced. In the edition presented here, Laguna included his own illustrations, engravings made on wood fiber panels. The book contains a total of 600 images depicting plants and animals, and the names of all the species shown appear on the page in several languages. Precise details about the engraver are unknown, but as the edition was printed in Belgium, it is thought by many that they were created by a Flemish artist of the time. Others believe that the engraver was Italian, because of the strong resemblance that these illustrations bore to those in the Matthioli edition. These authorities believe that the plates were made in Italy, brought to Antwerp by Laguna, and ultimately sent to Spain in order to produce additional copies of the work. This valuable edition was printed on vellum and was illuminated in order to be presented as a gift to the future King Philip II, who was then still a prince.

Last updated: August 28, 2015