Rabanus Maurus wrote his sweeping 22-volume encyclopedic work De Universo de Rerum Naturis, translated in English as On the Natures of Things, between 842 and 847. It was the first such collection of knowledge since Isidore of Seville's seventh-century text, Etymologies. This Latin manuscript is an abridged version of the full work and is enhanced with in-text unframed miniatures and decorated capitals throughout.
Created between 1022 and 1035, almost two centuries after the original Carolingian text, the book's large format demonstrates the ongoing importance of De Universo in the Romanesque period. It was made in Italy at the monastery of Montecassino under the direction of Abbot Theobald and remained there as a record of the world’s knowledge for the benefit of the monastic community.
The lively, endearing pictures scattered throughout the text preserve a rare visual record of medieval daily life. Stocky figures with expressive eyes and bright yet earthy clothes inhabit the pages alongside angels, animals, cities, and snow. The naivety of the drawing only serves to make more authentic their role as illustrations of the world as experienced by monks of the eleventh century.
All of Human Knowledge in the Pages of a Book
De Universo de Rerum Naturis was a compilation of the available knowledge on all manner of subject from human history and industry, to geography and the climate, to plants and animals both wild and domestic. It is a work so dense in information that sections of it contributed to the development of books such as the Marvels of the East, bestiaries and herbals.
Most of the illustrations fit within one column width and serve to illustrate specific passages in much the same manner a modern encyclopedia will include pictures, especially of specific animals and plants. The drawings are drawn in dark ink and colored in with bright pigments, sometimes rather hastily. No silver or gold was used in the manuscript.
A Medieval Encyclopedia
The pages are divided into two columns of forty-three lines. The script is Beneventan minuscule written in black ink with new sections differentiated with colorful vegetal capitals. A list of contents illustrated with an image of Christ begins the book as a reminder that the source of all that follows is ultimately the divine.
Both the script and the images have a practical quality about them with no superfluous ornamentation or luxury. However the large format is itself a measure of wealth, the abbey having devoted considerable resources to its creation. It was, however, the contents of the book that were its true value for the monastic community.
The Long Life of Carolingian Scholarship
Rabanus Maurus (d. 856) was a prolific scholar and writer of the Carolingian period. He studied under Alcuin at Tours and later served as abbot of Fulda and archbishop of Mainz. His many commentaries and hymns in addition to his major works, De Universo and In Honorem Sanctae Crucis, were of profound importance in Western monasticism throughout the Middle Ages with copies continuing to be made throughout the period.
This copy made at the Abbey of Montecassino, the center of Benedictine monasticism after its founding by Benedict of Nursia around 529, is of particular importance as a record of the continued impact Rabanus Maurus’s work had throughout Europe at the hubs of religious life and scholarship.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "De Universo De Rerum Naturis": De Universo De Rerum Naturis Rabano Mauro facsimile edition, published by Priuli & Verlucca, editori, 1994Request Info / Price