The Raab Collection Announces the Discovery and Identification of a Unique English 13th century Medieval Manuscript Leaf: Euclid

The Raab Collection Announces the Discovery and Identification of a Unique English 13th century Medieval Manuscript Leaf: Euclid

Previous efforts to identify the country of creation had not been successful

The Raab Collection announced today that it has acquired and sold a rare surviving leaf from Euclid’s Phaenomena, written in the 13th century, a remarkable medieval attempt at reconciling theology to ancient math.

Moreover, Raab identified the piece as English, after previous efforts to locate its origin had been unsuccessful.  The firm was unable to identify other such examples of Euclidean material having reached the market, bearing this date and location.

Historical background

For a while in most parts of Medieval Western Europe, the ability to read Greek was lost and with it, access to important texts on science and mathematics from the Ancient Greek thinkers. In the late 12th century, due to the Crusades and contact with Islamic scholars, the Medieval West regained access to Greek learning through translation to Latin.

Christ in a Euclidean circle

With the new-found access to Greek, particularly Euclid and Ptolemy, medieval thinkers began to try to reconcile God with Pre-Christian, or pagan, science. This text represents one thinker’s attempts to use Euclidian geometry, most likely from his Phaenomena, which deals with astronomy, with Heaven, thus creating a system of Heavenly Geometry. The text, likely the scholars own notes as he read or heard lectures, is entirely unique, and never before published.

The manuscript

Two fragments of the same leaf with unique commentary illustrations on Heavenly geometry citing Euclid.

References to the “body of Christ” (corpus Christi) are intermixed with geometric descriptions

England, mid-13th c., [Full document: 292×233 mm; Textual area: 254×158 mm], 5 lines in two sections (recto), 13 lines in one section (verso). Long lines in Latin written in black ink in an English secretarial hand between ruling lines laid out for text and image. Three large illustrations of Christ, Virgin Mary, and angels in pen. Three pilcrows open the sections of text. Leaf trimmed by Early Modern book binder and used in later binding.

Where has it been?

The distinctive notch-pattern cuts reveal that this leaf was used by an Early Modern printer as “binding waste,” to support the spine around the sewing stations of a leather-bound book.  Vellum has always been an expensive commodity, therefore to cut costs, Pre-Modern book binders would often recycle earlier manuscripts that were considered out of date or that they were just unable to read because of the changes in handwriting throughout the periods.



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