Books for professional use
VCF 15 (Germany, 1575-1600): Pretiosissimum Donum Dei (The most precious gift of God), paper, 346 fols., 310 x 200 mm, 1 col., 23-25 lines.

One of the most influential alchemical works of the Early Modern Period is the Pretiosissimum donum Dei (The Most Precious Gift of God). The author of this book, probably Georgius Aurach de Argentina, starts his text by thanking God for his inspiration. The donum Dei was particularly famous for the series of twelve illustrations that show the personifications of alchemical processes. The scribe has copied the text of the donum Dei as well as the illustrations in this manuscript. The illustrated scenes take place inside glass bottles and frequently depict a king and a queen which, in alchemical symbolism, often represent two opposite elements, just like the sun and the moon (see also VCF 17). This manuscript also contains five alchemical texts written by Arnaldus de Villanova (c. 1240-1311). De Villanova was an alchemist, astrologer, and physician who translated many Arabic medical texts into Latin.

From fol. 242r onwards the scribe has added many drawings of the various laboratory glassware items used in chemical experiments. There are also drawings of complicated constructions that look like small buildings (see fol. 253v). This manuscript was copied by two scribes. The second scribe (who copied fols. 139 - 345) wrote down his initials on fol. 345v: SPD.

(Boeren, 1975, pp. 49-51)


  1. Medieval scribes recognized that readers may need some help finding their way throughout the book or within the texts they contained. Over time, a number of tools were invented to this end. What type of reading-aids can you find in this manuscript? Give three examples.
  2. Most manuscripts lack miniatures and the colorful decoration that medieval books are so well known for. The reason for this absence is usually pragmatic: there was no need for such decorative elements or the reader lacked the financial means for them. However, many medieval books contain some color, however little or rudimentary. Make an inventory of all colors present in this manuscript, from the main text (what color is it, does its color vary or is it constant?) and the chapter titles, to any other colorful element the book may have. What other colors than that of the main text are present and what purpose do they serve? In other words, why were other colors than the regular brown or black ink of the main text added to the manuscript?


  1. Boeren, P. C. (1975). Codices vossiani chymici. Universitaire Pers Leiden.