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Re: VMs: 1006184 & 1006185
I don't know if this helps any, but to my mind there are some background
considerations that weigh heavily on what we might expect of the VMS plant
A few of the most popular early herbals were written by people who were well
travelled, who had actually seen some of the plants they wrote about. The
problem is that the poeple who made copies of these herbals hadn't seen
hardly any of them, and therefore stylized the drawings, based on written
descriptions of the plant, and nothing more.
I've read about 300 early printed books on herbs and medicines, most of
which tell where the plant grows and what it is used for. It turns out
there was a booming business in herb trade, but few of the people using
these plants had ever seen them. The plants were ground and packaged, and
there are many comments that seeds were roasted before shipment to other
countries in order to preserve the monopoly nature of the trade. Roasted
seeds do not grow. This left the apothecary trade in the position of using
ground plants from other countries without ever seeing the plant in
question. Their descriptions of these products usually involve taste and
color, nothing more.
Many books also indicate that the only local source for many of these herbs
were the monasteries and abbeys, maintained by the Church. One of the
priorities of travelling monks was apparently to bring back new plant
specimens, but monopoly trade laws made this a difficult task until the last
half of the 16th century.
Sifting through the sid images, there is a lot more damage to the vellum
than previously identified, damage that was repaired by the author prior to
drawing the images and writing the text. This poor quality vellum is
striking in that I've never seen another manuscript that uses so much
damaged vellum as this one does. This observation goes straight to the
financing of the project, and also goes against any idea that the VMS is a
hoax. A hoaxter should have made use of the damage to make the manuscript
appear older, but the author went to the trouble of stitching and writing
over the damage. All things considered, this information points most
probably to a physician or herbalist in a monastery or abbey, not making a
copy, but using loose vellum ends and pieces to accomplish his work. I am
working on some evidence that may demonstrate he once travelled to what is
now Germany, but beyond that there is no indication that this individual was
But there you have it - a person in a religious order, devoted to the
medicine of the time, poorly travelled and working with few materials. A
small abbey garden and a few countryside plants used as substitutes from
time to time, but no major knowledge of the appearance of some of the most
"powerful" medicinal plants, which came from abroad, already ground in
leather covered clay jars. I don't know what you can really expect in plant
realism if this is the scenario.
----- Original Message -----
From: "william edmondson" <w.h.edmondson@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Wednesday, June 09, 2004 7:45 AM
Subject: Re: VMs: 1006184 & 1006185
> That is fine - but can these experts also offer us some descriptions of
> how the illustrations differ from the plants 'depicted'? If we had
> that then we'd know more about what allowances to make wrt the VMS
> Please don't misunderstand me. I'm simply concerned to clarify the
> basis on which people can say of any VMS illustration that it 'is of
> plant xxxxx'. Currently I'm underwhelmed by any of the suggestions
> offered, and really bothered that I can stroll into my garden to check
> (and look in piles of books I have to support the gardening) and find
> many many important taxonomical differences. If folk can genuinely
> explain away those differences then let's hear about it.
> On the face of it the possibility that plants evolved a lot over 500
> years seems implausible. That drawings might be
> systematically/stylistically 'erroneous' is interesting but I need the
> That's all.
> On 9 Jun 2004, at 12:37, Rene Zandbergen wrote:
> > --- William Edmondson <w.h.edmondson@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
> > wrote:
> >> Hi
> >> The point I am trying to make (non-tetchily) is
> >> simply that 'looks-like'
> >> is very subjective. The drawing in question doesn't
> >> look like a
> >> strawberry plant - any strawberry plant - for a
> >> number of reasons I listed.
> > It being subjective is true, but the real problem
> > is even worse. It was never really the purpose
> > of ME MS herbals to create lookalikes of the
> > plants, so the same objection could be applied
> > to a great many ME herbal drawings which are
> > known to represent a particular plant (the text
> > being readable).
> > I'm not a medieval herbal expert, but the above
> > statement comes not from me, but from people who
> > are (were).
> > Cheers, Rene
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> Dr William Edmondson
> School of Computer Science
> University of Birmingham
> Edgbaston B15 2TT
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