Books for professional use
VCF 16 (Germany, 1550-1600): Theophrastus Paracelsus, De viribus membrorum (The strength of the organs?), paper, 242 fols., 310 x 217 mm, 1-2 cols., various lines.

After you have turned the first twenty-six empty paper leaves at the beginning of this manuscript, a text from the third volume of De viribus memborum (The strength of the organs/limbs) begins. This book was written by Theophrastus von Hohenheim (1493/1494-1541), better known as Paracelsus. Paracelsus was a controversial physician, alchemist and astrologer who pioneered the use of chemicals and minerals in medicine. He was one of the first physicians who believed that members of his profession should have an academic background in natural sciences and chemistry.

This manuscript contains several texts by Paracelsus on both medical and alchemical topics. It also contains a treatise on the Philosopher’s Stone by Isaac Hollandius (see VCQ 37) and short passages on alchemical recipes and experiments. Fol. 9v, for example, describes a remedy to treat snake bites. Fol. 10r contains an improved recipe against epilepsy. Until the nineteenth century, this manuscript had a parchment cover1 made from an official document from 1473.

The texts were written by five different scribes. Scribe A (fols. 1 - 56, 94-100) is particularly hard to read because of the thick pen-strokes and the ink that has leaked through to the other side of the leaves.

(Boeren, 1975, pp. 51-52)


  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. Observe all written parts of the book in front of you (main text, rubrics, marginal additions, ownership inscriptions) and make an inventory of the different styles of handwriting. Some differences you observe may result from the fact that they are different script families, while others are a variation within one given script family. Focus on a small selection of letters of your own choice and deduce if they vary and how precisely. This is a difficult task that may require you to analyze individual letters, but that may also be sparked by an intuitive verdict: one style of writing may feel “much better” or “of higher quality” than another. Differentiate between the different writing styles to the best of your abilities and with any available means – quantitative or qualitative.


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