Biblioteca medicea laurenziana.

Reproductions from illuminated manuscripts. Fifty plates from mss. in the R. Medicean Laurentian library with preface and illustrative notes by Dr. Guido Biagi online

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Online LibraryBiblioteca medicea laurenzianaReproductions from illuminated manuscripts. Fifty plates from mss. in the R. Medicean Laurentian library with preface and illustrative notes by Dr. Guido Biagi → online text (page 1 of 3)
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University of California Berkeley

Gift of

Fifty plates from the MSS.

of the
R. Laurentian Library









Florence, Stabilimento Tipografico Aldino

Plates by Istituto Veneto di Arti Grafiche,



These reproductions from one of the most notable
Italian collections may well, I deem, furnish useful ma-
terial for the yet unwritten history of miniature painting
in relation to illuminated manuscripts. Up to the present
this history has been neglected both by bibliographers
and art critics, as the ornamentation of books comes
neither within the scope of palaeography nor within that
of the history of painting. The miniatures which are pre-
served in the Medicea Laurenziana and rank among its
most vaunted treasures, are in such number and of such
great worth as of themselves to provide materials for a
fine and rich collection of reproductions. They range
from the VI cent, to the XVIII cent., and contain
examples of every age and every school. For this volume,
the first of a series which it is hoped may comprehend
miniatures and valuable manuscripts in various Ita-
lian collections, I have selected only a few of the most
characteristic that are to be seen in the glazed cases, at
present all too scarce, in the Laurenziana, whose treasures
it is my ambition to expose in an ordered Exhibition that
shall form the Museo del Libro, when the Salone di Miche-
langiolo is to have its completion in the Tribuna, desi-
gned by the artist and which I ardently desire to see erected
as the first saloon of the future Museo.

In compiling this Album we have followed the example


set by the British Museum in its Reproductions from Illu-
minated Manuscripts edited by George F. Warner, and I
have endeavoured to give a short and complete description
explanatory of the brief notes placed below each facsimile.
To describe the various collections of the Laurenziana,
whence the originals here reproduced have been taken,
would be useless for those with knowledge of such, and
tedious for those without. It is sufficient to recall that
this notable collection begun by Cosimo pater patriae
while still a young man (in whom the love of books
had been instilled by Ambrogio Traveraari, the little monk
of the Angioli who was one of the founders of Humanism
in Florence), enlarged and enriched by the Medici, citizens
and rulers of the Eepublic, and again by the Medici,
Grand Dukes, and by the House of Lorraine, and lastly
by the Italian Government with the addition of the ce-
lebrated Ashburnham MSS. is still preserved and to be
admired in the old Medicean seat, erected by Buonarroti,
here by the side of the Church of Brunellesco and the Me-
dicean sepulchres. The ancient tree of the old humanistic
culture flourishes and grows green again, envied and admi-
red by foreigners, while unknown or almost unknown to the
great majority of Italians, who are ignorant of the golden
age of books, when books were held in high esteem as a
treasure-house of knowledge worthy of every adornment

that art could bestow.


The Medicea Laurenziana
Easter 1914.


336 mm. X 266 mm. (Laur. Pint. I. 56).

This is the celebrated Syrian MS. written by the monk Rabiila ;
it came from the monastery of St. John of Zagba in Mesopo-
tamia, and bears the date A.D. 586. The miniatures occupy fourteen
leaves, of which the first, second and last are pasted in on modern
guards. In this MS. a complete representation of the Crucifixion
and the Resurrection (plate I) occurs for the first time, and of
such reality and precision in the manner of its execution as al-
most to make it a model for the Christian artists of the succeding ages.
Following this, come the Ascension (plate II), and Christ between two
bishops and two monks (plate III). It may be said that, in this por-
trayal of the great scenes of the Christian faith, religious iconography
possesses one of its first documents. The name " Loginos ", written in
Greek uncial characters above the figure of the centurion in the first mi-
niature, has given rise to the thought that the MS. may have been
copied from a Greek original. But the influence of the sculptural art
apparent in the figure of Christ, similar to those seen in the apses,
and in general throughout the ornamentation, would rather lead to
the belief that these miniatures were copied from the mosaics in the
sanctuaries of Palestine. In any case it is also evident from this MS.
that the art of Syria and Palestine was not without influence on
Byzantine and Western art.

VIII cent. 500 mm. X 340 mm. (Laur. Amiatino I).

This is one of the most precious MSS. of the Vulgate, and came
to the Laurenziana from the Abbey of San Salvadore on Monte Amiata.
It is well established that it was written in Northumbria by order of

Ceolfrid, abbot of St. Paul's at Jarrow and a disciple of St. Bene-
dict Biscop. From an antiqua translatio which he brought back
with him from Rome, on his fourth journey with Benedict in 678,
he caused three copies to be made. The Amiatino MS., copied at Jarrow
under the direction of the Venerable Bede, is the same copy that Ceol-
frid on his last journey to Rome, in 715, desired to present to Pope
Gregory II. Ceolfrid died on his way there, at Langres in 716, but his
wish was carried out by his disciples, and from Rome, at the close
of the IX cent, or the beginning of the X cent., the MS. was transferred
to the monastery of Monte Amiata. The abbot of the monastery erased
the name of Ceolfridus Anglorum from the inscription, putting his
own, Petrus Langobardorum, in its place, and changed the words Corpus
and Petri, in the first two lines of the inscription into the words Ce-
nobium and Salvatoris. Through the surmises and researches of De
Rossi, G. F. Browne, S. Berger and Dr. Hort it has been possible to
re-integrate the original inscription. The MS. contains the entire Latin
Bible except Baruch, with the proem to every book. In the octavo
preceding the text, which is supposed by some critics to be of Cassio-
dorian origin and which contains a page on a purple ground, are the
inscription of Ceolfrid (plate IV), three tables of the Canon of the Old
and New Testament (plate V), a plan of the Tabernacle and a minia-
ture representing Ezra (plate VI) restoring the sacred MSS. At the
beginning of the New Testament there is a miniature (plate VII) re-
presenting Christ in glory in the centre of the heavens blessing the
world : at the corners are the four Evangelists.

VIII-IX. EVANGELIARIUM. MS. on vellum. XI cent. 245 mm. X 357
mm. (Laur. Acquisti e Doni 91).

This MS., written in two columns in a minute upright hand, has
rich ornamental initial letters in various colours and five large minia-
tures of the Byzantine school representing the four Evangelists with
their symbols and the Ascension of Christ. Plates VIII and IX re-
present St. Matthew and St. Lube. The postils and marginal notes
are of the XIV cent.

cent. 248 mm. X 357 mm. (Laur. Pint. XII. 17).

This MS. which belonged to Pietro di Cosimo dei Medici, as shown
by the writing Liber Petri de Medicis Cos. fiP. , is written in minute
Carolingian characters by several hands. The four miniatures it contains
show the special characteristics of English art, though it cannot be
affirmed that the manuscript does not also present signs of continental
influence, perhaps German. The first miniature (plate X) represents
St. Augustine with an open book in his hand, under a round arch, his
figure standing out against a purple ground: to right and left are groups
of disciples. The second miniature (plate XI), on the opposite right-
hand page, is divided into two compartments ; in the upper one are
seen six persons, holding a scroll and tablets, engaged in discussion ;
and in the lower one seven persons in the same attitude, one of them
wearing a low mitre of antique form. The third miniature has been
reproduced by the New Palaeographical Society (Part. VI. pi. 138).
The fourth miniature (plate XII) represents the City of God. The MS.
has richly decorated initials.

XIV. cent. 270 mm. X 386 mm. (Laur. Tempiano n. 3).

This is a kind of ledger in which Domenico Lenzi, corn-chandler,
almost daily wrote, in a fine Italian Gothic hand with frequent rubrics,
the prices of corn and oats in the piazza of Or San Michele from 1320
to 1335, adding, with a moral purpose, city news specially concerning
harvests and famines. It is ornamented by an initial letter in which
Abundance is represented, and by 8 full-page miniatures executed
undoubtedly by a Tuscan artist. Plate XIII is meant to represent
the driving out of the poor from Siena during the famine of 1328-
1330, but in it we have a view of Florence with the arms of Siena,
and there are to be seen the first city walls, the Porta del Vescovado,
Santa Reparata, the campanile of the Badia, and Giotto's Tower not
yet completed. Plate XIV shows the same walls, the Porta del Ve-
scovado, the Baptistery, the campanile of the Badia, the tower of the


Bargello, and other edifices of the time, and the compassionate welcome
which, during the famine, the priors and the citizens of Florence exten-
ded to the poor, giving them wherewith to satisfy their hunger. Plate
XV depicts a harvest scene : people mowing, thrashing corn and gathe-
ring it in with joyful faces, while above is an angel from whose mouth
there issue through a trumpet the words " con allegrezza ogn' uom
canti cho meco " and " voi abbondate in fructi e in benedi[zioni] ". Be-
hind the angel is a hand grasping a third trumpet from which issue the
words : " posso rimuover tucto, me ringrazia ! ". Plate XVI shows
the corn-market in a year of plenty, and above are two angels, one of
them shouting through three trumpets " chon allegrezza ogn' uomo
canti cho meco ", "in dovizia fa ben che mal non segua " and
" tropp' aver ben non ti faccia peggiore ". Plate XVII represents another
harvest scene : above is the menacing monster of hunger, and the an-
gel, the twisted and broken trumpets falling from his hands, is seen
flying towards the heavens exclaiming : " torno e lor lascio in alpestre
pastura " : two arms extended from a cloud on high, await the celestial
messenger with the words " rimenato m' a in ciel piii netta e pura ".
Plate XVIII shows us the corn-market of Or San Michele in a year
of famine, with the miraculous tabernacle of the Virgin, as it must
have been before the later embellishments, with the official sitting
at the bench with the candle lighted for the contracts. Great confusion
reigns in the market ; some appear to be quarrelling, others are weeping
and lamenting : standing out among the crowd are guards armed with
lance and shield who have come up to still the tumult. High above
is an outstretched hand, the hand of God, delivering a sword to the
monster of hunger, which in response to the divine words " 1'anima
serva e il corpo sia punito ", answers " io far6 come tu m' ai largito ".
From the wings of this Devil issue the lines " piangi ch'ai donde ch'ad-
dietro il ben torna ", " in fame in charo vi faro dolere ", " duol sopra
duol che dio ci lascia al peggio ". The angel, his broken trumpets fal-
ling earthwards, is seen flying towards the cloud shouting : " gioconda
allegra son dentro al mio si to ". Plate XIX affords us a view of Colle
di Valdelsa from whose gates come forth unladen beasts of burden on
their way to Fiorenza and laden ones on their way to Pisa, to record

the fact that the citizens of that place refused to send to Florence
the promised corn in order to sell it a little dearer to Pisa.

cent. 366 mm. X 270 mm. (Laur. Med. Pal. 143).

The MS. contains the life and miracles of St. Anthony Abbot and
was compiled by Friar Johannes Marcellarii, sacristan to the Monastery
of St. Anthony at Vienne in France, by order of Friar Johannes da
Montecanuto, cellarer of the Monastery, who likewise caused the minia-
tures to be executed. The MS. was presented to Pope Eugenius IV,
probably during the Florentine Council of 1439. It contains 201 mi-
niatures, one on each page, and almost all standing out in white and
gray, illuminated in gold, from a green and red background. The mi-
niature in Plate XX represents St. Anthony restoring speech to a wo-
man's son, binding her not to reveal the miracle during the life of the
Saint. In Plate XXI the Saint is portrayed in a vessel with the
nuncios who are to bear him to land. In Plate XXII demons are
seen wounding the Saint, Satan fearing that he would live in the her-
mitage. These miniatures belong to the French school and are of sin-
gular importance regarding the history of costume.

XXIII. EVANGELISTARIUM. MS. on vellum. XV cent. 285 mm. X
415 mm. (Laur. Aedilium. Eccl. Flor. 115).

Besides the elegant miniatures of the first page, (plate XXIII),
this MS. contains 34 initial letters enclosing small scenes of extraordi-
narily fine execution and 37 beautiful vignettes of the Florentine
school, perhaps from the hand of Filippo di Matteo Torelli. At the
end is inscribed " Scribere cum penna docet me Sancta Maria. Talis
sum scriptor Augustinus nomine vocor. MCCCCLXVI ". The MS. still
bears the original binding in red velvet with clasps of cloth of gold
and silver niellos attributed by Bandini to Maso Finiguerra. An ancient
tradition affirms that this book lay on the altar in the Chapel of the
Duomo, during the mass, on the day of the conspiracy of the Pazzi
(26 April 1478).


XV cent. 199 mm. X 153 mm. (Laur. Ashburnham. 1874).

This Book of Hours, illuminated for Lorenzo de' Medici by Fran-
cesco d'Antonio del Cherico, and written in a most elegant hand by An-
tonio Sinibaldi in 1485, is one of the marvels of Florentine art. The
miniatures, unequalled for perfection of execution and richness of com-
position, occupy 9 full pages : nor are lacking ornamented figure-initials,
and small scenes for every month in the calendar with which the Book
of Hours begins. Plate XXIV, with which the Office of the Blessed
Virgin begins, shows the Annunciation, the Nativity, and the coming
of the Magi to the stable, and within the initial the Madonna and Child.
Plate XXV, with which the Office of the Dead begins, has two small
scenes illustrating an episode from the legend of S. Macario, and the
Resurrection of Lazarus. Plate XXVI has, at the beginning of the
seven Penitential psalms, the figure of David prostrate befcre the
Lord, and, within the initial, David on the throne with a Prophet stand-
ing before him. Plate XXVII represents the Crucifixion, and, in the
initial at the beginning of the Office of the Cross, the Ecce Homo.
In Plate XXVIII, before the small Office of the Cross, are a re-
presentation of the Deposition and, in the initial, the Kiss of Judas.
Nothing could be more marvellous than this Book of Hours worthy
indeed of the Magnifico. For the ornamentation the miniaturist has
drawn from every possible decorative element, so that this small MS.
may be said to form, as it were, an encyclopaedia of decorative
art, while in the admirable miniatures the goldsmith's art itself is
surpassed in richness and splendour. The MS. was restored to the
Medicean collection after having been taken abroad at some unde-
termined period : in the seventeenth century it was in Belgium and be-
longed to the de Merode family. It was purchased by the Italian Go-
vernment in 1884 with the Ashburnham collection, of which it is one
the most precious gems.


vellum. XV cent. 410 mm. X 280 mm. 2 vols. (Laur. Med. Pal. 156).
This " Romuleon ", a compendium of Roman history, was transla-


ted from the Latin into French by Jean Mielot, canon of the Collegiate
Church of St. Peter's in Lille, for Philip, Duke of Burgundy and written
by David Aubert, official calligraphist, from 1464 to 1465. From Philip
the Good, who died in 1467, the MS. passed into the hands of Charles
the Bold who kept it by him even on the field, and was probably taken
as spoil of war by Rene II, surnamed De Vaudemont, when he defeated
Charles the Bold under the walls of Nancy. The son of Rene, Anthony
the Good, had it divided into two tomes on the 6th of June 1510, and
from the library of the Dukes of Lorraine the manuscript passed to
the Laurenziana after their coming to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
The 14 fine miniatures that adorn it are the work of Loiset Liedet,
one of the official illuminators to Philip and Charles, Dukes of Bur-
gundy, and were finished almost certainly before 1467. For their excel-
lence and freshness these miniatures may be compared with those
of the Histoire de Charles Martel in the Royal Library at Brussels, exe-
cuted by the same artist. The miniature of the proem (Plate XXIX)
portrays David Aubert, the Court calligraphist, being charged by the
Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, with the work of executing a copy
of the Romuleon. The one at the beginning of the third book (Plate
XXX) represents Coriolanus being beseeched by Veturia, his mother,
and Volumnia, his wife, to save Rome. The miniature preceding the
tenth book (Plate XXXI) represents two episodes in the Life of the
Emperor Hadrian written by Elio Sparziano : in the first there is the
triumph of Trajan, the simulacrum being seen ; in the other, the em-
peror endeavouring to run himself through with his sword, but withheld
by the prefect and his son. The miniature on Plate XXXII repre-
sents the 10 Sibyls.

XV cent. 278 mm. X 417 mm. (Laur. Plut. LXXXII. 3).

This is one of the many MSS. illuminated for Pietro di Cosimo
de Medici, in whose writing are the words at the end : " Liber Petri
de Medicis Cos. fil. ". The rich and varied ornamentation is formed
of a kind of white arabesque of intertwining tendrils on a plain ground,
a style of ornamentation used especially and with great taste and


skill by the Florentine miniaturists, - - interspersed with figures of
animals, puttos, and pretty heads looking out from a gilt frame run-
ning round the whole page along the centre of the ornamental border.
In the hollow of the initial L are three rings set with a diamond, the
emblem of Pietro de' Medici ; and in the lower part of the border,
upheld by flying puttos and surrounded by cherubs' heads, is the
Medicean coat of arms with the nine red balls and the motto Semper.

XXXIV. PLUTARCHUS, VITAB. MS. on vellum. XV cent. 252
mm. X 358 mm. (Laur. Plut. LXV. 26).

A very graceful border consisting of sprigs and flowers and gold
spots interspersed with puttos and birds encloses the page, and at
the foot in the centre of the border, there is a candelabrum with the
Medicean coat of arms and four festoons of leaves and fruits, with
the diamond rings from which issue the three Medicean plumes. In
the initial Q there is a scene from the life of Theseus, who is depicted
in the act of slaying the Minotaur. Between two diamond rings set
on the upper part of the initial there is the name of the miniaturist
Franciscus, while between two lower rings is written pin-xit. Fran-
cesco d' Antonio del Cherico, one of the most skilful of the Florentine
miniaturists has in this case put his signature to his work ; but without
the signature, his hand would be recognizable in the elegance, liveli-
ness and grace displayed in the decoration, and in the high excellence
of the illumination. At the end of this MS. also are written the words :
" Liber Petri de Medicis Cos. f. ".

XV cent. 247 mm. X 342 mm. (Laur. Plut. LXVI. 9).

As shown by the subscription at the end of the MS. it was " scriptus
manu mei Gherardi Joannis del Ciriagio civis florentini pro Johanne
Cosmae de Medicis cive optimo florentino ". It was the same artist
who, perhaps at a later time, illuminated the Plinius (plate XXXIII)
which this Joseph Flavius (plate XXXV) resembles in the rich and
varied arabesque-like ornamentation of intertwining tendrils, in the gilt

- 15 -

frame running round the page, and in the medallions containing sin-
gularly perfect scenes. The son of Cosimo, Giovanni, died in Octo-
ber 1463 ; so this MS. is necessarily of antecedent date.

223 mm. X 336 mm. (Laur. Plut. XXXIX. 6).

This Virgil is written in fine characters by a fifteenth century hand,
and, on the first page, which has no miniature facing it on the leaf
opposite, it has an ornamented and pictured border bearing the title of
the work. The absence of any miniature on the opposite leaf, the fact
that the initial which begins the text is almost independent of the
scene adorning it, the larger hand, the cameos, the gems adorning
the border with its plump and chubby puttos, all point to a new mi-
niaturist whose manner recalls that of Gherardo. The arms of the
Sassetti with the motto A mon pouvoir inform us that the present MS.
is one of those that Francesco Sassetti (the man of letters and artist
of this family of merchants, who was a partner of the Medici in their
business, and who imitated them in their love of the arts) caused to
be written and illuminated for his library, at a cost of over 800 florins.
Francesco Sassetti was born in 1420 and died in 1491. The medallion
at the top in the centre represents the Judgment of Paris : the one
to the right, the Rape of Helen : the one to the right, half-way down
the page, the departure of Aeneas from Carthage : the one lower down,
Paris as a shepherd playing his pipes. The scene by the initial represents
the entry of the wooden horse and the burning of Troy (plate XXXVI).

XV cent. 218 mm. X 334 mm. (Laur. Plut. LVI. 10).

The humanistic Greek writing with rubricated glosses in the margins,
one of which, on the first page, the miniaturist has artistically set like
an inscription on a tablet, shows that the MS. belongs to the second half
of the fifteenth century. The miniature of the initial page is architectural
in character, with columns and pilasters, between which are trophies
of arms, cameos, gems and musical instruments. At the foot within


the border there is a coat of arms with bands argent on a field gules sur-
mounted by a cross also of silver : and a side-view of the same coat
of arms is also seen near the column on the right upheld by a winged
putto of the prettiest shape. Light green and light red predominate
in the miniature, which is evidently an intentional classical imitation,
rarely met with in the Medicean MSS. (plate XXXVII).

379 mm. X 280 mm. (Laur. Aedilium Flor. Eccl. 109).

This splendid missal was written for the Church of Santa Maria
del Fiore by the priest Zanobio Moschini who finished his task in De-
cember 1493, and it was illuminated by the brothers Monte di Gio-
vanni and Gherardo, two of the most perfect artists of the Florentine
school, whose manner resembles that of Domenico Ghirlandaio. The
verso of the first leaf (plate XXXVIII) bears the lily of Florence, the
arms of the people and of the Comune, and the sheep that is the
symbol of the Arte della Lana and of the Opera del Duomo. Within
the garland, in letters of gold on a blue ground is the title of the MS.
On the opposite page (plate XXXIX) the text begins, enclosed in a
very rich border with candelabra, festoons, puttos, animals, and tondos
containing the heads of Prophets. In the medallion at the top in the
centre, is God the Father with a crown of Seraphs : in the one at the
foot San Zanobi in the pontifical chair with a deacon on either side.
The initial A encloses the figure of David playing the Psaltery. In the
upper part of the page, in a miniature unequalled for beauty and excel-
lence, there is a representation of the Annunciation. In plate XL, a
rich frame encloses the text that is in two columns, and there is a mi-
niature in the lower portion of the frame containing a tondo supported

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Online LibraryBiblioteca medicea laurenzianaReproductions from illuminated manuscripts. Fifty plates from mss. in the R. Medicean Laurentian library with preface and illustrative notes by Dr. Guido Biagi → online text (page 1 of 3)