Naked man and ornamental penwork initial at the beginning of Book I, De anathomia humani corporis
Gonville and Caius Coll. MS 35/141, f. 3r
Thomas of Cantimpré, De natura rerum
England, ca 1400–1410
Image reproduced by kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Gonville and Caius College
After St Albert the Great, Thomas of Cantimpré (ca 1200–1272) is the most famous Dominican writer of scientific works, notably his De natura rerum, a sort of encyclopaedia of science in twenty books on subjects covering anatomy and medicine, animals, astronomy, birds, fish, reptiles, plants and trees, precious stones and metals, which was extensively read in the Middle Ages. He began religious life as an Augustinian canon, but entered the Dominican Order at Leuven in 1232, going to Cologne in the following year to study under Albertus Magnus. From 1237 to 1240 he studied in Paris at the Dominican convent of St Jacques and at the university, where he wrote De natura rerum. He returned to Leuven in 1240 where he spent most of the rest of his life. The text was translated into German by Conrad of Megenburg ca 1349, into Dutch in the late thirteenth century by Jacob van Maerlant, and the part of it on the Monstrous Races into French. This English copy of the early fifteenth century begins with a drawing of a naked man before the first book which deals with the human anatomy and which has an elaborate penwork initial at the beginning of its text.