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Western Medieval Manuscripts : Aldobrandino da Siena, Regime du corps

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>Cambridge, University Library, MS Ii.5.11 is a fifteenth-century illustrated copy of a household health text commonly known as the <i>Régime du corps</i>. It contains a full version of the text with 143 accompanying illuminations. These images are in the form of historiated initials, capital letters that contain small, relatively simple scenes within them. This type of initial letter is often used to introduce chapters or sections of a text. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The <i>Régime du corps</i> is a French text originally composed in 1256 by the physician Aldobrandino of Siena. Aldobrandino’s text was essentially a compendium of small excerpts culled from various established medical sources that were associated with the training of physicians in universities. Presented in a concise, general, and accessible tone, the resulting text was directed toward those who oversaw households. The advice it offers was intended for the maintenance of health and the treatment of minor illnesses in the home, serving as a kind of self-help guide. This thirteenth-century health guide was one of the first medical texts to be written in French rather than Latin and it would become popular and influential: it was translated into at least four other languages and exists in dozens of surviving copies that were made during the next two hundred years. The topics covered include activities for good health like rest, bathing, and clean air and water, interventions such as a phlebotomy and purging, chapters on specific body parts, and recommended foods, spices, and beverages. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>According to the prologue that accompanies some copies, the ambitious countess of Provence, Beatrice of Savoy, enlisted Aldobrandino, her personal physician, to compose this guide for her to pass along to her four daughters just as they were forming their own households. These daughters were also the present or future queens of England, France, Germany, and Sicily. Women like these queens probably played a role in the spreading of the text and its knowledge across Europe. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>In addition to the <i>Régime du corps</i>, CUL MS Ii.5.11 also includes a short selection of French and Middle English recipes (<i>Régime</i>: <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(17);return false;'>7r-85r</a>; recipes: <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(174);return false;'>85v-86r</a>). The manuscript was likely made in France in the mid-fifteenth century, in the Rouen region. By the later fifteenth century, however, the manuscript was in royal English hands. The arms of Henry VII, king of England (1457–1509) and Queen Elizabeth of York (1465–1503) are found on folio <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(16);return false;'>6v</a>. This was likely added after 1486, when the couple was married; based on this date, Henry was a later, probably second owner of the manuscript. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The abundantly and extravagantly illustrated copies of the <i>Régime du corps</i>, including CUL MS Ii.5.11, were high status objects. While it is unclear how heavily such health guides were used for the information they contained, they were unquestionably objects that reflected luxury as well as the kind of specialized content that was attractive to bibliophiles. The illuminations of CUL MS Ii.5.11 are characterized by diverse colors, elaborate leafy vines in the margins, and some use of gold leaf. The artistic style of CUL MS Ii.5.11 results in figures with somewhat oversized hands and heads, appearing just a bit too large for the space provided them. Status is often conveyed through specificity in clothing and headwear. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'> A few examples demonstrate the unique style evident in this manuscript. On folio <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(58);return false;'>27v</a>, the chapter on corruption is represented with a particularly well-dressed physician advising a patient. In a delightful initial to accompany the chapter on fromage, the cheese is set out to dry with a basket hanging nearby (fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(157);return false;'>77r</a>). In the image for the chapter on caring for a newborn, two female attendants tend to the infant and new mother in this conventional lying-in scene (fol. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(72);return false;'>34v</a>). The chapter on pregnancy shows a lone woman holding a book, possibly consulting the same manuscript in which this image appears (folio <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(69);return false;'>33r</a>). Depictions of the domestic sphere are abundant, reinforcing the association of these manuscripts with household management overseen by women. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Numerous illustrated copies of this health guide exist, including seven that are illustrated with historiated initials. CUL MS Ii.5.11 includes 143 historiated initials, reflecting the increased illustration program of several other later copies. It is among a group of four made in the fifteenth century, of which three are remarkably similar to each other. The Cambridge copy shares much in common with both <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>New York, Morgan Library MS M.165</a> and <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>London, British Library, Sloane MS 2401</a>. CUL MS Ii.5.11 and Morgan MS M.165 were likely both made in Rouen around 1440–50. Sloane 2401 shares much with these two copies and likely has a similar origin. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The determination of royal, English ownership by the late fifteenth century raises questions about where and for whom the Cambridge manuscript was originally produced. During the Hundred Years War, the English presence in the area around Rouen in the mid-fifteenth century was prominent; Elizabeth of York’s grandfather Richard, Duke of York (1411–60) was in residence in that area, and her father, Edward IV, was born in Rouen in 1442. Edward was a pronounced collector of Continental, specifically Burgundian, manuscripts; another, later illustrated copy of the <i>Régime</i>, <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Lisbon, Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, MS Ajuda 52-XIII-26</a>, may have been produced for him in Bruges. That the Cambridge manuscript took such a path to the collection of Henry VII seems quite plausible. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'><b>References</b>: <div style='list-style-type: disc;'><div style='display: list-item; margin-left: 20px;'>J. Borland, ‘Freeze-Framed: Theorizing the Historiated Initials of the Régime Du Corps’, <i>Word & Image</i>, 32.2 (2016), 235–50 [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''></a>]</div><div style='display: list-item; margin-left: 20px;'>J. Borland, 'Female networks and the circulation of a late medieval illustrated health guide', in <i>Moving women, moving objects (400-1500)</i>, ed. by T.C. Hamilton and M. Proctor-Tiffany (Brill, 2019), pp. 108-136 [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''></a>]</div><div style='display: list-item; margin-left: 20px;'>J. Borland, <i>Visualizing Household Health: Medieval Women, Art, and Knowledge in the Régime Du Corps</i> (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2021) <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''></a></div></div><br /></p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr Jennifer Borland<br /> Professor of Art History and Director of the Center for the Humanities<br /> Oklahoma State University</p>

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