You can’t visit the exhibition — but you can hear the talk! (and order the catalog)

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There was great excitement at the opening of the Penn Libraries’ exhibition, “The Making of the Renaissance Manuscript,” in February. Curator Nicholas Herman gave a compelling gallery talk to a spellbound audience, and it was sure to have a robust audience, especially when the Renaissance Society of America came to town in April.

Alas, fate had other plans. The library closed in March as the nation grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Renaissance Society’s meeting was also cancelled.

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Repainted Miniatures in the Frédéric Spitzer Hours

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 38/52

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Book of Hours for the Use of Paris, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1945-65–5, p. 351 and 363 (detail of retouched miniature of Saint Michael; detail of unretouched miniature of Saints George and Lawrence)

The Austrian-born, Paris-based dealer-collector Baron Frédéric Spitzer (1815–1890) is well known to those who study medieval and Renaissance art on account of his famed collection of over 4,000 items, which was sold off after his death, and also on account of the numerous deceptive objects that passed through his hands at one point in time or another. In partnership with the restorer Reinhold Vasters, Spitzer orchestrated the production of misleading objects that he sold on the art market for enormous profit.  These ran the gamut from outright forgeries, fakes, and pastiches to historicizing originals and honest replicas. A contemporary overview of his collection, before it became notorious for containing questionable objects, is provided here. Recently, Paola Cordera has written a monograph dealing with Spitzer’s wider role in the broader culture of the time, which also includes a list of the 3369 items in the 1893 auction, 508 items in the 1895 auction, and 686 items in the 1929 auction.1

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Nau, Naulet, Noël: Part II (a fragment of the Chanson de la Grue)

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 37/52

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Noels (Book of Christmas Carols in French), Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 211, fol. 5r (detail)

Last week, we looked at the lively pen-and-ink illustrations in this remarkable anthology of French Christmas carol lyrics from the 1520s, and discovered the lyrics to a poem by the famous Franciscan preacher, Olivier Maillard. This week, we will look at another text within the book, before finishing with a quick overview of some of the splendid penwork initials that embellish the book as well.

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Nau, Naulet, Noël: Part I (a poem by Olivier Maillard)

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 36/52

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Noels (Book of Christmas Carols in French), Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 211, fols. 17v (detail).

As the holiday season approaches, it seems appropriate to devote a pair of posts to a lovely, if little-known gem of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s collection of manuscripts. This charming and well-used manuscript on paper contains an anthology of lyrics for Christmas carols, or Noels, written principally in French and dating to the 1520s.

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Who was Michele Zopello?

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 35/52


Michele Zopello, Litterarum simulationis liber; University of Pennsylvania, Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection, LJS 225, fol. 1r

One of the masterpieces of the Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection at the University of Pennsylvania is the presentation copy of a work on cryptography made for Alfonso da Borgia (1378–1458) during his three-year reign as Pope Callixtus III. The text is fascinating, as it provides an unpublished and otherwise unknown insight into Renaissance systems of cyphers.

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Which Dr. Wickersham?

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 34/52

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Antiphonal, Philadelphia, The Library Company of Philadelphia, MS 19, front cover and fol. 150v

The Library Company of Philadelphia possesses a small collection of about twenty Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, which are interesting on account of their diverse provenance histories. These manuscripts entered the institution at different times and through a variety of local collectors. Because the Library Company predates the establishment of the Free Library of Philadelphia by 160 years, many of these donations were made relatively early in the history of manuscript collecting in the United States.

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