British Library, Harley MS 1585


Produced: S. Netherlands (Li├Ęge), ca. 1175
Location: British Library, London, England, UK
Type: Miscellany
Language: Latin
Folios: 92
Illustrated: Yes
Media: Parchment
Script: Protogothic
Dimensions: Height: 12.5 cm Width: 16 cm
Folio 16r


A medical treatise. Includes herbals, a text on herbal medicine for women, and a text on medicinal uses of animals. Illustrated with colored drawings of plants and about 38 line drawings of animals, in black or dark brown ink with some reads, greens and blues.

The section containing most of the animal illustrations (folio 57r-78v) is structured like a bestiary, except where the bestiary has a description and an allegorical interpretation of the animal, here there is a description on the use of the animal in medicine. Many of the usual bestiary animals are included, and the usual order of animals in the bestiary is more or less followed here.

The manuscript is a compilation of late-antique and early medieval pharmacopeial texts:

  • ff. 1v-6v: A table of contents relating to Pseudo-Antonius Musa, De herba vettonica liber and Pseudo-Apuleius' Herbarium
  • ff. 6v-9v: Pseudo-Hippocrates, Epistula ad Antiochum regem
  • ff. 10r-12r: Pseudo-Hippocrates, Epistula ad Maecenatem (De regenda sanitate)
  • ff. 12v-13v: Precatio Terrae and Precatio omnium herbarum: Prayers to the earth goddess and herbs
  • ff. 13v-58r: Pseudo-Antonius Musa, De herba vettonica liber (ff. 13v-16v) and Pseudo-Apuleius Platonicus, Herbarium or De medicaminibus herbarum (ff. 16v-58r) written continuously as one text
  • ff. 58r-78v: (Pseudo-?) Sextus Placitus, Liber medicinae ex animalibus. prefaced by De taxone
  • ff. 79r-92v: Pseudo-Dioscorides, Liber medicinae ex herbis femininis
  • f. 92v: Text relating to a plaster for gout (excerpt from Theodorus Priscianus, Euporista ?)

Decoration:Large or full-page drawings of medical procedures or physicians (ff. 7v-9v, 12v, 13r) in ink, mostly against backgrounds of coloured washes, some also with gold. Drawings of plants, scenes and animals throughout. Large initials (2-4 lines) in alternating blue and red, occasionally with penwork decoration in the same or contrasting colour. Titles and rubrics in red.

According to Collins (2000), the iconography of the plant illustrations descend from South Italian cycle such as found in Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana, MS Plut. 73.41 and British Library, Harley MS 5294. Harley MS 1585 served as model to Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Ashmole 1462, and British Library, Sloane MS 1975.

[Adapted in part from the British Library catalog description]

Additional Descriptions

Additional description

Editions and Facsimiles

Digital facsimiles

British Library