Liberal Arts and Education
BPL 197 (Southern Netherlands?, Netherlands, 1100-1300): Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae (The Etymologies), parchment, 74 fols., 172 x 125 mm, 1-2 cols., 35-43 lines.

In the beginning of the seventh century, the archbishop and scholar Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636) wrote the Etymologiae; an etymological encyclopedia based on hundreds of classical sources. In addition to etymology, Isidore describes many more subjects in his book such as: grammar, architecture, animals, law and religion. The Etymologiae is considered to be the first Christian example of an encyclopedia. This manuscript contains parts of book numbers four, ten, twelve, sixteen, and seventeen of the twenty books that Isidore wrote in total. The manuscript also contains the Mineralia by Albert Magnus, a treatise on minerals and stones.

This manuscript consists of three independent parts that were bound together on a later date. The first part was owned in the fifteenth century by Johannes de Soumaing (see fol. 34v). On almost every leaf of the second part (fols. 35r - 68v) you can see drawings of little hands in the margin that are pointing to sentences in the text. These hands, called “manicula”1, show the reader which passages deserve extra attention. The shape of the hands varies, suggesting that they were drawn by several readers. These readers also added other commentary in the margins.

(Gumbert, 2009, pp. 94-96)


  1. Before a scribe could begin to fill the quires with text, the layout of the page needed to be designed and prepared. What instruments did the scribe of this manuscript use to prepare the pages?
  2. Some manuscripts were produced by one individual that undertook all production stages, including designing the page, copying the text, adding rubrication, and correcting the book. Many others, however, are the product of two or more individuals. How many people worked on this manuscript and how can you tell? Use any observation for your verdict, including how the letters were executed. Can you for example see any notable differences in the execution of the script?


  1. Gumbert, J. P. (2009). Illustrated Inventory of Medieval Manuscripts in Latin script in the Netherlands. Verloren.