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.

The “Parliament of Heaven”: Tracking a Theatrical Iconography

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 20/52

Book of Hours, Use of Rouen, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 126, fols. 14v–15r (miniatures showing the Procès de Paradis or Parliament of Heaven and the Annunciation)

A few weeks ago, we saw how an early-sixteenth-century manuscript illuminator, the so-called Master of the Entries of Francis I, could translate real-life, ephemeral tableaux vivants that he almost certainly witnessed, onto the manuscript page. Today, we will examine another theatrically-derived composition, known from elsewhere but not previously identified among Philadelphia’s manuscripts: the Procès de Paradis, or Parliament of Heaven.

This unusual image is found in the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Lewis E 126, a Book of Hours from Rouen that can be dated to the reign of the French king Louis XII (r. 1498–1514) on account of an inscription in the frame on folio 35v. Though it may be slightly later than the rest of the book, the dimidiated coat-or-arms on folio 37v was identified by Albert Van de Put as those of the Quinard family of Languedoc and Venot de Noisy of Burgundy and the Lyonnais,1 with Jean-Luc Deuffic more recently suggesting the more likely Normandy family of Vauquelin instead of Quinard. The miniatures in the book were produced by two distinct artists, but ours is identifiable with Robert Boyvin (another book in the Free Library, Lewis E 124, was illuminated by a close collaborator of his).2 Facing an image of the Annunciation, the miniature on folio 14v of our manuscript shows several figures in white-grey grisaille. The figures in the lower area, standing upon the ground, represent l’Église (the Church, in place of the habitual Truth) paired with Justice, and Miséricorde (Mercy) paired with Sapience (Wisdom). The four personifications are labelled below in gold lettering. In the middle is the Angel Gabriel. Above, the scene is surveyed by an isomorphic Trinity holding open the Book of Life, and surrounded by three Orders of Angels: seraphim, cherubim, and thrones.

Though other versions of the image existed earlier in the Middle Ages,3 this variant of the Procès de Paradis was inspired by the Mystère de la Passion, a mystery play by Arnoul Gréban that was performed widely in France during the fifteenth century.4 As an iconography, it has been well-studied.5 It occurs, for example, in late-fifteenth-century Parisian Books of Hours produced in the workshop of the Maître François, an illuminator tentatively identified with a certain François le Barbier the elder.6 In one example now in New York (The Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.73), dated to about 1475, the first four lines of text for the Hours of the Virgin divide the page in two, with the Annunciation (habitually the standalone image for this section of the Book of Hours) occurring below. In other cases, such as in this somewhat eccentric Parisian Book of Hours with miniatures by several different artists (The Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.179) the image has even replaced the Annunciation at the beginning of the Hours of the Virgin (fol. 38r), relegating it to Lauds! By the time our book was made, the layouts of Books of Hours were being modified from the start to allow for one or two full-page miniatures preceding the beginning of the text, which meant that the Annunciation could be accompanied by another scene such as the Procès de Paradis. Our collation model shows that this was the case for our book: the scribe has given the illuminator carte blanche, as it were, for the striking double miniature.

Book of Hours, Use of Paris, New York, The Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.73, fol. 7r (miniature for the beginning of the Hours of the Virgin showing the Procès de Paradis or Parliament of Heaven and the Annunciation)

The Procès de Paradis composition seems to have been introduced to Rouen (where our manuscript was made) by Jean Pichore, the prolific illuminator who also provided numerous designs for metalcut prints for Books of Hours.7 Pichore worked with the border decorator Jean Serpin, who also collaborated with Boyvin, our illuminator. A Book of Hours Pichore illuminated around 1500, now in the Vatican Library (Barb. Lat. 487), shows the Procès de Paradis facing the Annunciation, as in our book. An example of Pichore’s broadly disseminated metalcut, from a hand-colored, printed Book of Hours at the University of Kansas, shows very close similarities to the earlier manuscript version. Other manuscript illuminators active in Rouen, such as the Master of Philippe of Guelders, used somewhat different compositions (San Marino, Huntington Library, HM1101, fol. 19v).
Book of Hours, Use of Rome, Rome, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Barb. Lat. 487, fols. 23v–24r (miniatures showing the Procès de Paradis or Parliament of Heaven and the Annunciation)

Guillaume Anabat for Germain Hardouin, Book of Hours, Use of Rome, Paris, 1505, Lawrence, University of Kansas, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, Summerfield C65 (hand-colored metalcuts showing the Procès de Paradis or Parliament of Heaven and the Annunciation)

Lewis E 126, fol. 14v (detail of miniature showing the Procès de Paradis or Parliament of Heaven)

Was our illuminator perhaps inspired by Pichore’s images, either in manuscript or print? As you can see, our miniature differs in important ways from both Pichoresque images: the female pairs of Church and Justice and Mercy and Wisdom do not embrace, but seem instead to debate the finer points of theology (counting fingers was a widespread gesture denoting scholarly dispute at the time).8 Another miniature by our Boyvin, also showing the Procès du Paradis and dated to 1502, shows a much greater similarity to Pichore’s image. Indeed, it is directly derived from it (Paris, Artcurial, 1 December 2014, lot 105, fol. 25v). Moreover, the colorless grisaille of our manuscript’s figures seems unusual.9 Was Boyvin simply reacting to an uncolored, printed image he saw, or was this a more deliberate choice?

Book of Hours, Use of Rouen, Paris, Artcurial, 1 December 2014, lot 105, fol. 25v (miniature showing the Procès de Paradis or Parliament of Heaven)

Overall, do the subtle differences found in our manuscript inflect the meaning of the composition? Might Boyvin have been referring to particular aspects of allegorical mystery plays being performed at the time in Rouen, or is he merely transmitting another pre-existing image? More research into the artist’s immediate context might yield additional answers.


The Early History of the Lewis Psalter

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 17/52

Gallican Psalter with Canticles, Litany, and Prayers (he Lewis Psalter), Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 85, fols. 1v–2r (historiated initial B with King David Playing the Harp and King David Slaying Goliath; blank page with later prayer to Saint Martial)

One of the glorious treasures of Philadelphia is the so-called Lewis Psalter (Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 185), produced in Paris in the first half of the thirteenth century, likely between around 1225 and 1230. Digitizing and cataloguing this sumptuous book anew was a real thrill, made much easier by the existence of Elizabeth A. Peterson’s excellent Ph.D. dissertation which describes the content all 150 of the manuscript’s historiated Psalm initials (the manuscript is in fact one of only eight surviving French manuscripts from the period to include illustrations for every psalm).1

Unlike some of its better-documented sister manuscripts, however, very little is known about the original user(s) and subsequent owners of the Lewis Psalter. Some later inscriptions within the book might help provide a clue as to where the book was prior to its reappearance in the nineteenth century in the collection of Henry Gee Barnard of Yorkshire (1789–1858). To begin with, an inscription on folio 2r, previously described as a prayer to Saint Martial, written in a what looks like a late-sixteenth-century cursive hand, reads:

Sanctus Martialis discipulus Chri[sti] virgo.

Crux enim domini armatura v[est]ra invicta contra satanam galea / custodiens caput. Lorica protegens pectus, clipeus tela maligni / repellens; gladius iniquitatem et angelicas insidias p[ervers]sae potestat[is] / sibi propinquare sinens nullo modo. Hoc solo signa celestis victoria / data est nobis et per crucem baptisma sanctificatum est

or, translated roughly into English:

Saint Martial, virgin disciple of Christ

The Cross of our Lord is the invincible armor against Satan: a helmet protecting the head, chainmail protecting the chest, a shield repelling evil darts, a sword warding off all approach of iniquity and of the perverse power of evil angels. This, the only sign of celestial victory, is given to us and is blessed by the baptism of the Cross.

This is an image of fol. 2r from Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 185, Lewis Psalter (Paris, France, 1220 - 1245).
Lewis E 85, fol. 2r (with detail of inscription of prayer to Saint Martial)

This unusual text is not in fact a prayer to Saint Martial, the venerated third-century Bishop of Limoges known as the “Apostle of Aquitaine,” but instead an excerpt from Saint Martial’s apocryphal letter to the people of Bordeaux. The text of this letter is preserved in a twelfth-century manuscript from Limoges now at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (ms. lat. 5296A), with the passage discussing the cross appearing on folio 38v. Of course, our early anotator might have been familiar with this passage through another source. The text was widely available in print by the early seventeenth century at the latest.

Vita sancti Martialis, discipuli Christi: authore Aureliano, successore illius atque discipulo. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. lat. 5296A, fol. 38v (Saint Martial’s letter to the people of Bordeaux, with detail of excerpt concerning the Cross)

Another note, on folio 32r of the psalter, is written in the same hand: “Psalmodia, carmen est celeste: et eos a quibus colitur sedulo, ex hominibus in angelos transfigurat,” or, “the recitation of the Psalms is a heavenly song, and transforms those who carefully recite them from men into angels.” The author of the short fragment of text is Louis de Blois (1506–1566), an influential sixteenth-century Flemish Benedictine mystic. The rather lofty phrase stems from one of de Blois’ best known works, the Sacellum animae fidelis or Sanctuary of the Faithful Soul (Louis of Blois, Sacellum animae fidelis, 1575, p. 333).

Perhaps the presence of this quote alongside the excerpt from Saint Martial will one day help clarify this great manuscript’s obscure early history. In any event, it would seem to confirm the manuscript’s presence in a Benedictine institution in the sixteenth century. Given these two pieces of evidence, might we imagine that the book was among the possessions of the Benedictine Monastery of Saint Martial in Limoges, dissolved in the wake of the French Revolution? Raymond Gaucelm, whose abbacy lasted from 1225 to 1245, was known to have been responsible for enriching the foundation’s treasury considerably2 as well as embarking on ambitious renovation campaigns, and his dates would accord perfectly with those assigned to the Lewis Psalter. Could he have been responsible for commissioning the Psalter, or at least bringing it from Paris to the Limousin? Given the fragility of the evidence, this remains merely a hypothetical, though tantalizing, suggestion. More research into Saint Martial’s early library inventories, which do survive, might provide more information.

This is an image of fol. 32r from Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 185, Lewis Psalter (Paris, France, 1220 - 1245).

Lewis E 85, fol. 32r (with detail of inscription with extract from Louis de Blois)

Finally, there is additional evidence to suggest that the Lewis Psalter was used liturgically early in its life, a finding that makes it more likely to have been housed within a monastic institution, rather than having been owned by a high-ranking aristocrat. Written in a different fifteenth- or sixteenth-century hand, a prayer simply entitled “Oratio” on fol. 191v, not previously identified, in fact consists of the Collects for the fifth and seventh Sundays after Trinity. The final word, misinterpreted as the proper name “J. Credor,” is simply the incipit of the Credo:

This is an image of fol. 191v from Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 185, Lewis Psalter (Paris, France, 1220 - 1245).
Lewis E 85, fol. 191v (with detail of inscription with Collects for the fifth and seventh Sundays after Trinity)

While by no means conclusive, we can hope that the identification and transcription of these later additions might help shed light on the history of this wonderful book.


Beware the Spanish inscription: A French Book of Hours, an Admiral, and an Iberian patron(?)

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 13/52

Book of Hours, Use of Rome, France, ca. 1475, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 212,  fols. 31r and 210v (beginning of the Hours of the Virgin with miniature of at Annunciation, and subsidiary scenes from the Life of the Virgin; suffrage of Saint Catherine with small miniature, showing rotunda-style script and the work of a second artist)

The Free Library of Philadelphia’s Lewis E 212 is a quite finely produced and well-preserved French Book of Hours of around 1475. Looking closely at its miniatures, we can determine that they are by two distinct artists: a more skilled and possibly younger artist, likely trained in Tours, was responsible for the pastel-like calendar vignettes and thirteen small miniatures; another artist, likely trained in Paris, produced the eleven large miniatures and their borders, as well as the small miniature for the Obsecro te. We prefer the luscious style of the former, as evidenced by the lovely calendar scenes. But who are we to judge?

Lewis E 212, fols. 2r–13v (details of calendar vignettes with labors of the months and signs of the zodiac)

However, what grabs our attention more than the division of labor between two distinct artists trained in Paris and Tours respectively, a phenomenon that is well-attested elsewhere elsewhere,1 is the book’s calligraphy. The manuscript’s large, clear, southern Rotunda script is unusual for a manuscript completed in the Loire Valley or Paris, and is more typical of manuscripts produced in Spain or Italy. In fact, a barely discernible inscription at the top of folio 1r is written in Spanish; this is likely what prompted Seymour de Ricci to state that it “was in Spain, ca. 1600” when he described the manuscript over eighty years ago.2

  Lewis 212
Lewis E 212, fol. 1r (prayer in Spanish, with contrast-adjusted detail)

A close inspection of the inscription shows that the first line reads “La oracion del emperador…,” while the second ends with instructions for when the prayer is to be recited: “…in la mañana y a la noche.” The presence of this inscription, coupled with the unusual Rotunda script of the manuscript, point, perhaps, to it being originally intended for a Spanish patron. The production of bespoke manuscripts for the Spanish market was relatively frequent in the Netherlands (and we in fact encountered it previously in a Book of Hours from Lehigh University), but it is very unusual for France.

   Jean-Louis Girardin de Vauvré.jpg
Lewis E 212, upper cover (with arms of Jean-Louis Girardin de Vauvré); Portrait of Jean-Louis Girargin de Vauvré, after Hyacinthe Rigaud

The later ownership of the manuscript by the superintendent of the French Navy Jean-Louis Girardin de Vauvré (1642–1724), confirmed by the presence of his arms on the binding (a shield with three bird heads), is interesting, as he was heavily involved in the War of the Spanish Succession. Though we have no precise knowledge of his book collecting habits, as a highly mobile Naval official he would have had ample opportunity to acquire such a book during his travels.

Image result for Lydia Thompson Morris   1928-7-121-cons
Photo of Lydia Thompson Morris, University of Pennsylvania, Morris Arboretum Archives; Portrait of Isaac Paschall Morris by a Follower of Thomas Sully, ca. 1835–40, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1928-7-121

Incidentally, the book’s presence in the collections of the Free Library of Philadelphia is due to the generosity of Lydia Thompson Morris (1849–1932), who donated historic Cedar Grove house (in West Fairmount Park) to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Together with her brother John, she owned the large Compton estate in Chestnut Hill that was to become the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania. Lydia and John Morris had inherited much of their wealth from their father, Isaac Paschall Morris (1803–1869), who had grown wealthy supplying iron fittings for ships.

What “Use” is it? A Book of Hours rightfully restituted to the Walloon city of Mons

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 10/52

Book of Hours, Use of Mons, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 89, fol. 1r (beginning of the Hours of the Virgin)

The “Use” in a Book of Hours generally refers to the specific, regional variants found in the central devotional text, the Hours of the Virgin. Because these variants are often specific to a city or region in Europe, determining the “Use” of a Book of Hours can, at least in theory, help us determine where the book was intended to be read and prayed from. This can be helpful information indeed when faced with a Book of Hours that otherwise has no ownership or localization information! Use can be determined by comparing the Antiphon and Chapter readings for two of the Hours of the Virgin–Prime and None–to lists established by scholars on the basis of firmly-situated manuscript Books of Hours or early printed editions, most actually printed in Paris, that nonetheless state explicitly for which town they were meant to be used.

Because our understanding of “Use” has evolved and improved over time, it is important to double-check information asserted by scholars in the past. The Free Library of Philadelphia’s Lewis E 89 is a well-used and quite plain Book of Hours of circa 1400, previously catalogued as being of the Use of Châlons-sur-Marne in the Champagne region of France.  However, the particular combination of Antiphons and Chapters in the Hours of the Virgin is equally valid for Mons, in present-day Belgium, and thus the book is more likely identifiable as being produced in the diocese of Mons. Moreover, its litany includes local saints Ghislain (fol. 94v), and Waldetrudis, (fol. 95v). The same saints are included in a two-folio fragment of a folio now in Montreal (McGill University Library, Rare Books and Special Collections, Ms. 99).

Lewis E 89, fols. 94v and 95v (litany with Saints Ghislain, left, third line from bottom; and Waldetrudis, right, second line from top)

As the inscription on folio 1r attests (illustrated at the top of the post), the book was owned in the 17th century by the Jesuit College at Louvain, further bolstering the Wallonian provenance. This Jesuit institution was suppressed in 1778 and many of its volumes went to Louvain’s university library, which itself was partially looted during the Napoleonic wars. Other volumes made their way into the Royal Library of Belgium in Brussels, and many are noted as coming from Louvain in a manner similar to ours (i.e. “Collegii societatis Jesu Lovanii”). The rest of Louvain’s university library was, of course, tragically destroyed by German forces in the First World War.

Murder in Lombardy! The original owner of a rare Italian Book of Hours identified

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 9/52
Book of Hours (here identified as the Hours of Cornelia Rhò), Use of Rome, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 206, fols. 16v-17r (full-page miniature of the Virgin and Child, and beginning of the Hours of the Virgin with historiated initial and coat-of-arms)

Though in rather poor condition, a closer look at this neglected Renaissance Book of Hours from Lombardy, Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 206, can tell us a great deal about its original context. Despite bearing a Lewis shelf mark, the manuscript was a gift to the Free Library from Simon Gratz (1840–1925), a Philadelphia lawyer, education reformer, and autograph collector. Like an item we examined several weeks ago, this manuscript never belonged to John Frederick Lewis and therefore was not described in the 1937 catalogue of the Lewis Collection’s 200 western manuscripts.1 Prior to being owned by Gratz, the book had been in the possession of another lawyer, George T. Strong of New York (1820–1875), who had acquired the book by 1843, when he inscribed his name on one of the flyleaves. Incidentally, Strong’s notoriety stems from the survival of his 2,250-page diary, rediscovered in the 1930s, which records nearly every day of his adult life in great detail, including the purchase on 30 May 1837 of a “a vellum MS., very splendidly and elaborately illuminated, and several large pictures of the Crucifixion, etc.,” which could plausibly refer to this manuscript, if we interpret the Crucifixion pictures as separate items.2 The manuscript thus came to the New World relatively early on, but that is certainly not where its story begins!

Beyond this American provenance, the book’s origins have until now remained obscure. Perhaps on account of its somewhat compromised condition, the book was not included in the landmark Leaves of Gold exhibition in 2001. It is therefore essentially unpublished. And yet, present at the bottom of the first page of the Hours of the Virgin, on folio 17r, are a straightforward heraldic escutcheon bearing two impaled coats-of-arms (i.e. shown fully side-by-side to indicate a matrimonial union) and a somewhat less easily discernible name. These elements do not appear to have been altered through overpainting. They therefore must indicate the original owner.


Image result for stemma da rho  
Lewis E 206, fol. 17r (detail of Visconti/da Rhò coat-of-arms) and their modern equivalents below

The right or sinister side of the coat-of-arms is readily identifiable as a serpent devouring a human baby, the famous vipera or Biscione, employed by the Visconti rulers of Milan and incorporated into the arms of their successors, the Sforza (argent an azure serpent devouring a child gules, or, in Italian, d’argento alla biscia d’azzurro ingolante un bambino di carnagione). The heraldic field behind the Biscione appears black due to the oxidization of the original silver. The dexter side of the arms is of a less famous family, the De Raude or da Rhò (Gules, a wheel argent, in Italian, di rosso, alla ruota d’argento), with the cart wheel being a play on the Latin word “rota” or wheel. Happily, the blue cartouche that surrounds the escutcheon contains a still-legible three-line inscription in gold capitals that reads “CO-RNE/LIA- DE/RA-VDE” or Cornelia de Raude.

I thus began to search for an early-sixteenth-century Italian noblewoman of this name. Because the Sforza, the usurpers of ducal power in Milan, re-employed the Biscione in their more complex arms, I initially thought that the combination in our Book of Hours might be a reference to Cornelia, illegitimate daughter of Ottaviano Riario (1479–1523). Ottaviano was himself the son of Caterina Sforza (1463–1509), and the latter was instrumental in the upbringing of her grandchild Cornelia. The date range seemed approximately correct, and the Sforza link could explain the use of the Biscione on the sinister, as well as the inclusion of a full-page prefatory miniature of Saint Catherine a few pages earlier, on folio 15v.

Lewis E 206, fol. 15v, full-page miniature of Saint Catherine

And yet, Cornelia Riario had no known connection to the da Rhò family. Further research allowed me to conclude that the correct identification lies in the person of Cornelia Rhò (birth date unknown, died after 1538), the daughter of Giovanni Paolo Rhò who married Giovanni II Borromeo (known as “Il gigante,” apparently on account of his size!), in 1518. As the son of Filippo Borromeo and Francesca Visconti, Giovanni II was the descendant of a prominent aristocratic line and served as commander of the Sforza infantry. His grandparents, Count Giovanni Borromeo (1439–1495) and Cle­ofa Pio da Carpi, owned a truly splendid Book of Hours illuminated by Cristoforo de Predis (ca. 1443–1486), today in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana (S.P.42).3

Cornelia’s mother-in-law was therefore a Visconti (see family tree below). The greater fame of the Visconti dynasty, and the complexity of the Borromeo family arms, which include a small Biscione anyway, are likely what led to Cornelia to elect to include the Visconti arms on the sinister, stripped of the gold crown atop the viper to signify that ducal power had passed to the Sforza. The wedding of Cornelia and Giovanni in 1518 accords perfectly with the circa 1520 date given to the book on account of the style of its miniatures and inhabited initials, which show the ongoing impact of the art of Leonardo da Vinci and his followers on miniature painting in Lombardy. It therefore seems reasonable to assume that this Book of Hours was a wedding gift to the young bride, either from her new husband, his parents, or her own parents.


Family tree of the Borromeo family, from Vincenzo De-Vit, Il Lago Maggiore, Stresa e le isole Borromee notizie storiche colle vite degli uomini illustri dello stesso lago (Prato: Alberghetti, 1877), 112–113

The da Rhò family had their ancestral origins in the town of the same name, some ten kilometers north-west of Milan, but in the late-fifteenth century were elevated by Gian Galeazzo Sforza to become lords of Borghetto Lodigiano, about ten kilometers south of the bishopric of Lodi, in the Lombard plain. Their imposing residence there, the Palazzo Rhò, still survives and currently serves as the town hall. It was built sometime after 1481 (see here for further information and photos).

Borghetto Lodigiano - palazzo Rho.JPG
Palazzo Rho in Borghetto Lodigiano, the former seat of the da Rhò family.

This book is a valuable addition to the biography of Cornelia Rhò, as precious little else is known about her. She and Giovanni II had a son, Filippo Dionigi, the year after their marriage. He would go on to marry the noted poetess Livia Tornielli. Apparently, for unknown reasons, Cornelia’s brother Baldassarre murdered Giovanni II—her husband and his brother-in-law—in 1536!4 The tomb of Giovanni II survives in the Milanese church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, famous for being home to Leonardo’s Last Supper.5 In a future post, we’ll explore the authorship and attribution of the manuscript’s high-quality miniatures and inhabited initials, which can help us to further understand the context in which this overlooked gem of the Lombard Renaissance was produced.