Click here to skip to content

A Philosopher Contemplates the Heavens, in Aristotle, 'Works on Natural Philosophy'

A Philosopher Contemplates the Heavens, in Aristotle, 'Works on Natural Philosophy'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1265

Shelfmark: Harley MS 3487

Item number: f.22v

Length: 37.2

Width: 24.6

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

In the 13th-century, western Europe rediscovered Aristotle's books on natural philosophy, or natural science ('Libri naturales'), and this caused an intellectual revolution. Despite being banned in Paris early in the century, they quickly became part of the curricula of universities. Oxford, where this manuscript was probably made, was a leading centre for the study of Aristotle. All students had to read set texts of Aristotle's treatises with commentary, of which this book is an example. It is exceptional, though, because it is quite richly decorated with unusual images. Furthermore, it belonged to Nicholas of Cusa, a German theologian and cardinal, in the 15th century. One of the most demanding texts students had to read, Aristotle's book 'Physics' ('Physicorum') was considered basic to understanding nature. Its fourth section begins with the first letter bearing a picture of a philosopher pointing up to the heavens. Some of the pictures in the manuscript appear to attempt to connect Aristotle's natural science with theology and established views. Above the letter, a man pushes a wheelbarrow in which sits a naked man who appears insane or demented. Perhaps the two pictures are related in that the heavens were believed to influence the minds and bodies of humans.

Search within this collection

Elsewhere on our websites

Newsletter

Latest events - register free online

Mobile app

For iPhone, iPad and Android

Report a Concern

What is the nature of your concern?

Report a Concern

What is the nature of your concern?

Email link to a friend

Write a brief note to accompany the email

Your friend's email address: