The Human Touch

Trinity has loaned manuscript O.7.16 to a new exhibition – The Human Touch: Making Art, Leaving Traces – which opens at the Fitzwilliam Museum on 18 May and explores the fundamental role of touch in human experience.

The popular 13th-century text – De spiritu et anima (On the Spirit and the Soul) – was attributed to St Augustine of Hippo. Recent scholarship, however, has argued for the authorship of the Cistercian, Alcher of Clairvaux. The diagram on the right with Latin labels seeks to portray the ways in which the brain processes sense perceptions. It relates to the text on the opposite folio which describes the working of the soul (anima).

O.7.16, ff.46v-47r

In the area of the brain, the diagram represents five internal senses in three chambers: first, sensus communis (common sense) and phantasia (fantasy); second, estimativa (cognition) and ymaginativa (imagination); and third, memoria ut retentiva (memory). Other contemporary diagrams connect these internal and external senses with linking lines. 

The external senses were specified by Aristotle in the 4th century BCE and remain recognisable to us today. They are visus (sight), auditus (hearing), olfactus (smell), gustus (taste) and tactus (touch). On the diagram the senses are labelled in red by the corresponding body part. The only sense depicted outside the head is tactus which is recorded by the hand as the prime mover for the sense of touch. The corresponding text on the opposite folio records that the hand can sense whether something is soft or hard, smooth or rough, light or heavy.

You can read more about the exhibition here.

Reference:

Ling E., Reynolds, S., and Munro, J. (eds), The human touch: making art, leaving traces, (Cambridge, 2020), pp. 20-1.