A cicerone’s Cicero

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 27/52

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Cicero, Epistolae ad familiares (Letters to Friends), Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 66, fol. 1r

The recovery of ancient collections of letters provided new stylistic models for humanists eager to break with the old-fashioned Medieval formularies, the stilted writing manuals that had until then structured letter-writing practices. The great poet and text-hunter Francis Petrarch had uncovered Cicero’s Epistolae ad Atticum in 1345 in Verona, but it was only in 1392 that Coluccio Salutati brought to light the entire sixteen books that make up the Epistolae ad familiares. Beyond its exemplary style of Latin prose, this collection of letters provided invaluable historical information concerning the final years of the Roman Republic. The fine humanist manuscript we are looking at today, Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 66, contains a complete copy of the Epistolae ad familiares, save for the first four letters of book 16, which appear to have been omitted purposefully.

The text is written in a competent but informal humanistic cursive, somewhat at odds with the more refined tricolor square capitals that mark the beginning of each book. The frontispiece displays the type of bianchi girari decoration intertwined with the gilded initial and set against tri-colored background fills that is the hallmark of well-produced humanist manuscripts and inclunables. The writing of the book was completed in Ferrara on 12 March 1468 by a certain Gregorio Martinello de Buccassolo, as noted in the closing colophon on folio 174v: “M.cccc. lxviij. die xij. Martij Ferrariae hora ui quarta uigesima per me Gregorium de Martinellis de Buccassolo”.

Lewis E 66, fol. 174v

Lewis E 66, fol. 174v (detail of colophon)

The escutcheon in the lower margin of folio 1r, also surrounded by florid vinework, was never filled-in. During a recent visit to the Free Library’s Rare Book Department with colleagues from the Kislak Center’s Steven Miller Conservation Laboratory, we attempted to use portable UV lighting to decipher what looked like a rubbed inscription in this area, but to no avail. Perhaps further examination with more specialized equipment would allow us to read what looks to be a proper name, perhaps added by a later owner or by the initial owner, in anticipation of the addition of a painted coat-of-arms.

Lewis E 66, fol. 1r (detail of the unpainted escutcheon under UV light)

Little is known regarding the scribe, Gregorio Martinello, as his name does not appear in any of the usual repertories of names of Renaissance scribes. However, thanks to the wonders of digitized books, we can learn a little more about him. He appears to have been a school master in Finale Emilia, just west of Ferrara, and seems to have transcribed a copy of Federico Frezzi’s epic poem of circa 1400, the Quadriregio.1

Extract from Pietro Canneti’s Dissertazione Apologetica… Intorno al Poema de’ Quattro Regni, detto altramente il Quadriregio (Foligno: Campana, 1723), 20.


Family Resemblances, Part 2

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 26/52
A guest post by University of Pennsylvania Manuscripts Cataloging Librarian, Amey Hutchins

Carta executoria, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 241, fols. 1v–2r (large illuminated initial D, coat of arms; facing text page)

As Richard L. Kagan explains in Lawsuits and Litigants in Castile,1 minors (under the age of 25) and women of any age were not allowed to litigate on their own behalf in the Castilian courts. The exception to the rule about women was that widows were allowed to bring lawsuits, which meant that they could protect their dowries from creditors of their dead husbands. One of the cartas executorias at the Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 241, records an example of a widow filing a pleito de hidalguía, the lawsuit by a private individual to prove a claim of nobility. Her name first appears as “Marí Lopez de Colmenares muger de Pedro de Matienzo ya defunto vezína de la dicha vílla de Carrión” (Marí Lopez de Colmenares, wife of Pedro de Matienzo already deceased, resident of the town of Carrión, fol. 2r).

This carta executoria was probably quite plain in its original form, with the floral borders added later. For comparison, simple pairs of diagonal lines like these in the upper margin of another, less extravagant, carta executoria,  UPenn Ms. Codex 74:

Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, UPenn Ms. Codex 74, fol. 6v

…are visible under the borders in Lewis E 241:

Lewis E 241, fol. 17r

…and the notarial marks like these at the bottom of each page in UPenn Ms. Codex 74:

UPenn Ms. Codex 74, fol. 6v

…have been roughly avoided by the later decoration in Lewis E 241:

Lewis E 241, fol. 17r

At the end of the text of the carta executoria, the later decoration does not fill the lower margin, in order not to cover the title-like summary at the end, where the name of Marí Lopez de Colmenares appears again, slightly damaged:

Lewis E 241, fol. 28r

The full-page illuminations in Lewis E 241 are at the end of the manuscript, not the beginning, and this departure from the usual order, together with the later date of the decoration, makes the shadowy double portrait at the end of the manuscript (fol. 30r) a bit enigmatic.

Lewis E 241, fols. 29v–30r

Lewis E 241, fol. 30r (detail)

Is it a retrospective portrait of Marí and Pedro? A portrait of their son García de Matienzo (named in a later addition on fol. 28v), with his wife? Or another member of the same family?

With thanks to Richard Kagan, Johns Hopkins University; Scotland Long, University of Pennsylvania; and Francis Turco, Temple University, for their assistance.

Family Resemblances, Part 1

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 25/52
A guest post by University of Pennsylvania Manuscripts Cataloging Librarian, Amey Hutchins

Carta executoria de hidalguia de Agustin de Yturbe, vezino de la ciudad de Sevilla, Bethlehem, PA, Lehigh University, Linderman Library, Codex 22, fols. 1v–2r (Full-page miniature, Yturbe family praying before the Virgin Mary; Full-page miniature, John the Baptist and Saint Augustine)

One of the great outcomes of the BiblioPhilly project is how easy it is to discover similar manuscripts in multiple partner libraries. As a cataloger at Penn, I was aware of seven cartas executorias in the Penn Libraries: six in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, and one at the Library at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. These are sixteenth- and early-seventeenth-century manuscripts celebrating the aristocratic genealogy of Spanish families and confirming the privileges of aristocracy, issued at the end of lawsuits brought in the chancillerías (royal chancery courts) in Granada or Valladolid to prove nobility. These privileges were worth having: they included exemption from taxes and protection from a variety of criminal punishments including torture and being sent to the galleys, and protection from imprisonment for debt.1 Through the BiblioPhilly project, I have made the acquaintance of six more cartas executorias in the region: one at Lehigh University (not described as a carta executoria prior to the project), one at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and four in the John Frederick Lewis Collection of European Manuscripts at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The manuscripts often begin with two full-page illuminations, including images of their owners, sometimes with their families. Here we see Alonso Ximenez de Canizares and his wife Maria de Zuniga (1574):

Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1923-17-1, fol. 1v

Juan de Londono and family (1587):

Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 59, fol. 1v

and Agustin de Yturbe and family (1593):

Bethlehem, Lehigh University, Linderman Library, Lehigh Codex 22,  fol. 1v

Some manuscripts also have historiated letters or small miniatures with portraits of the ruling monarch. The thirteen manuscripts in the BiblioPhilly region span the years from 1538 to 1606, issued in the reigns of Charles I (1516–1566):

Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 263, Carta executoria a pedimiento de Alonso Mendez de Parada, fol. 48v
Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 263 (1538), fol. 48v

Phillip II (1556-1598):

University of Pennsylvania LJS 20: Carta executoria de hidalguia a pedimiento, fol. 65r
Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection, LJS 20 (1578), fol. 65r

and Phillip III (1598-1621):

University of Pennsylvania LJS 21: Executoria de hidalguia a pedimiento, fol. 49r
Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection, LJS 21 (1606), fol. 49r

In this group of highly formulaic manuscripts, one has a significant difference, which will be the subject of the next post.

Mapping (a) Manuscript(‘s) Migrations

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 24/52

Book of Hours for the Use of Rome, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1967–30–120, fol. 19r (miniature of Saint Mark and beginning of text from the Gospel Lesson for Saint Mark; detail of miniature)

Books created in the Middle Ages can certainly travel vast distances in subsequent centuries. Projects such as Mapping Manuscript Migrations, a collaboration between the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, the Oxford e-Research Centre, the Bodleian Libraries, the Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes in Paris, and the Semantic Computing Group at Aalto University in Finland, will soon be able to harness the vast trove of later provenance information present in such repositories as the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts, mostly garnered from sale catalogues, in order to tell us which manuscripts have moved the most since, say, 1750. But medieval books themselves frequently contain records of their perambulations that occurred long before the modern auction industry fed the appetites and shelves of collectors. A famous example is the so-called Morgan Crusader Bible (The Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.638), produced in Paris or Northern France shortly before 1250, modified in Naples in the fourteenth century, brought to Poland by Bernard Maciejowski, Bishop of Kraków, then given by him to Shah Abbas of Persia as a diplomatic gift in 1608, transferred to a Persian Jew in the eighteenth century, purchased by a Greek antiquities dealer in Cairo, sold in London in 1833, and purchased (except for three leaves) by Belle da Costa Greene for the Morgan Library in 1916.

A much more modest example of a well-traveled manuscript is Philadelphia Museum of Art 1967–30–120, a Book of Hours for the Use of Rome with miniatures in a style that would suggest a place of production (or at least decoration) in the Berry region around Bourges. Though damaged, the miniatures have the deep, purplish palette and penchant for  landscape and architectural details reminiscent of the followers of the Bourges-based illuminator Jean Colombe (ca. 1430–ca. 1493). This manuscript is almost totally un-researched, but some details point to interesting later peregrinations. For example, after the Short Hours of the Holy Spirit and before the Penitential Psalms, a unique prayer in Italian simply titled “oratio devotissima” has been inserted in a rounded, humanistic script that must date from between about 1500 and 1525.


PMA 1967–30–120, fols. 106r–106v (prayer added in Italian)

Of course, this modification by an Italian speaker does not necessarily confirm that the book was in Italy, but an additional detail, the added Mass of the Virgin in meridional Rotunda Script on folios 172r–178r, corroborates the notion that the book was present in Italy at an early date.

PMA 1967–30–120, fols. 171v–172r (end of the Office of the Dead; beginning of the added Mass of the Virgin)

The book’s binding, which is damaged but quite finely tooled with a central crucifixion stamp, strapwork, and acanthus leaves, is typical of Italian bindings of the seventeenth century.

PMA 1967–30–120, front cover

However, the book appears to have returned eventually to France. The spine has been overstamped with bees, a distinctive detail typical of the library of Louis-Paul Abeille (1719–1807), lawyer to the Parliament of Brittany. At least, a later owner of the book identified the bees as such and noted this down in pencil on a flyleaf and cited the presence of the motif in Joannis Guigard’s Nouvel armorial du bibliophile: guide de l’amateur des livres armoriés, published in 1890.

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PMA 1967–30–120, spine, detail of bee motif, and recto of uppermost flyleaf

Above this pencil note is an older ownership inscription of a certain Samuel Tolfrey, dated 1869, likely identifiable with an English Army captain of the same name.

On the next flyleaf is a list of the manuscript’s miniatures, typical of a collector’s attitude to the contents of a Book of Hours. Interestingly, it is written in German. Based on the style of the cursive writing, it would appear to be as recent as the twentieth century.

PMA 1967–30–120, recto of second front flyleaf (with list of miniatures in German)

Currently, it is impossible to establish when and how the manuscript arrived in the collection of Samuel Stockton White III and Vera White, who bequeathed it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1967 along with two other Books of Hours (PMA 1967–30–121 and PMA 1967–30–122), several dozen illuminated leaves, and other objects.1 However, these scattered provenance elements show that the book had a convoluted journey to its most recent resting place, rivaling the wanderings of other, more famous fellow travelers.