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Diagram of seasons, in Isidore, De natura rerum

Diagram of seasons, in Isidore, De natura rerum

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 970

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Domitian I

Item number: f.10v

Length: 21.4

Width: 13.5

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

The scribes of Anglo-Saxon England copied books on scientific as well as religious subjects in the expansion of learning that had begun under Alfred the Great and continued, fed by increasing contacts with the continent, through the 10th and 11th centuries. This is a copy of one of the most well-known scientific books of the day, 'On the nature of things', on physical science, by Isidore, bishop of Seville, who lived in the late 6th and early 7th century. Written in an elegant script (style of handwriting) which was based on Carolingian styles, the small book is illustrated with diagrams labelled with capital letters in a style that looks back to types of Roman handwriting.

Most medieval copies of 'On the nature of things' include diagrams of some kind. In a chapter entitled 'On the seasons', a diagram shows the way that the four seasons harmonise. The year is thought of as a circle or ring (annus, in Latin), and as usual the diagram is circular. At the outer rim of the circle, the four directions are located (clockwise from top, east, south, west, north) relate the seasons to the overall structure of the world. The circle's interior relates the seasons to the directions (spring / east, summer / south, autumn / west, winter / north) and pairs qualities or humours ( wet or dry and cold or hot) with each using colour-coded arcs.

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