University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives. For a digitization of the entire book, see:


[Gart der Gesundheit]. Hortus sanitatis, [1485], Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon. Burgess 109

Adorned with red details, the womandrake (p. ccxlviii) represents one of the many bold woodblock prints in the German, Gart der Gesundheit (the “Garden of Health”), one of the first printed herbals. Her red fruits, cheeks, chest and nipples, paired with green leaves and a pale yellow wash, contrast vibrantly with the other woodblock prints in the book that that are mostly ornamented with only one color. A hand-painted initial letter denotes the “M” in “Madragora" (mandrake in Latin), the term used for both the man-(mann in German) and woman- (frau) drake pages.  The description refers to the colors with which the womandrake colored, like “gelb”, meaning yellow.  Dated to 1485, this incunabulum, that is, a book from the first fifty years after the invention of print,  informs the reader of medical ingredients such as herbs and plants, as well as animals and stones, and how they can be successfully utilized in medicines and recipes. While the deep red likely is a mineral pigment such as vermillion, the more translucent green and yellow are likely lake pigments, that is, organic dyes, likely buckthorn berries in this case, precipitated into a pigment using a mordant, often alum.   


This copy of the Gart der Gesundheit contains materials  from the 15th, 16th, and 18th centuries, since some eighteenth-century manuscript pages have replaced missing parts of the work, and some torn pages havge been repaired using sixteenth-century manuscript scraps.

Ashley Goussak