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.

  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.

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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.

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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.

[1] See Thomas Kren, “Seven Illuminated Books of Hours Written by the Parisian Scribe Jean Dubreuil, c. 1475–1485,” in Reading Texts and Images: Essays on Medieval and Renaissance Art and Patronage in Honour of Margaret M. Manion, ed. Bernard J. Muir (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2002), 157–200.

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.


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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).

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).

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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![3] The tomb of Giovanni II survives in the Milanese church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, famous for being home to Leonardo’s Last Supper. [4] 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.

[1] Edwin Wolf, A. S. W. Rosenbach, and Richard W. Ellis, A descriptive catalogue of the John Frederick Lewis collection of European manuscripts in the Free library of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Free Library of Philadelphia, 1937).

[2] George Templeton Strong, Diary, vol.1, Young Man in New York, 1835–1849, ed. Allan Nevins and M. H. Thomas (New York: Macmillan, 1952), 66.

[3] Vincenzo De-Vit, Il Lago Maggiore, Stresa e le isole Borromee notizie storiche colle vite degli uomini illustri dello stesso lago (Prato: Alberghetti, 1877), 172.

[4] Pietro C. Marani, Roberto Cecchi, and Germano Mulazzani, Guide to the refectory and Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie (Milan: Electa, 1999), 67.

A helping hand: barely discernible instructions for a miniaturist

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 5/52

Book of Hours, Use of Rome, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 107, fol. 100v (miniature of the Crowning of Thorns with instructions in left margin)

Marginal directions for illuminators—be they in written or in sketch form—are relatively common in the thirteenth century, and though they could no doubt be studied further, a very useful discussion of them is provided in Jonathan J. G. Alexander’s landmark Medieval Illuminators and their Methods of Work, published in 1992 (chp. 3, “Programmes and Instructions for Illuminators,” pp. 52–72). However, such notations become quite unusual as time goes on, especially in Books of Hours. The thinking is that standardized iconographies and massive workshop production made the usual iconographical cycle found in a Book of Hours so familiar to miniaturists that they needed no guiding words to help them. Those who (today) handle Books of Hours on a routine basis will surely understand how the typical iconography found in the various sections of these books quickly becomes almost entirely predictable.
Book of Hours, Use of Rome, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 107, fols. 38v–39r (end of Gospel Lessons and beginning of Hours of the Virgin)

In cataloguing a rather late and somewhat scruffy Northern French Book of Hours from the first quarter of the sixteenth century, Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 107, I discovered some faint, barely legible inscriptions in the margins adjacent to some of the more unusual miniatures. In certain cases, these short texts are partially covered over by the shell gold and paint of the miniatures, proving that they were indeed production notes and not after-the-fact annotations. While there are no inscriptions next to the canonical scenes in the Hours of the Virgin (for example in the Annunciation for Matins of the Hours of the Virgin, fol. 39r, shown above), inscriptions do appear next to the relatively uncommon cycle of miniatures in the combined Hours of the Cross and Hours of the Holy Spirit. For example, for the scene of Christ presented as the Man of Sorrows (known as the “Ecce Homo” in Latin), the word “homo,” or man appears in the margin.

This is an image of fol. 101v from Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 107, Book of Hours, Use of Rome (Flanders, 1500 - 1525).
Book of Hours, Use of Rome, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 107, fol. 101v (miniature of the Man of Sorrows with “homo” marginal instruction)

Elsewhere, the brief notations seem to have been partially rubbed away to erase them after the completion of the miniatures, rendering them hard to read. For the miniature showing the Resurrection, the Latin word “Resurrexit” seems to be partially discernible, though this is one instance where even the best digital (or analog) images don’t convey as much information as the first-hand examination of the page.

This is an image of fol. 108r from Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 107, Book of Hours, Use of Rome (Flanders, 1500 - 1525).
Book of Hours, Use of Rome, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 107, fol. 108r (miniature of the Resurrection with “Resurrexit” marginal instruction)

In other cases, the accompanying words are almost illegible. They are scrawl-like, highly abbreviated, and typical of earlier instructions for illuminators in that they seem to condense iconographies into short phrases. These are quite different from the longer, more expository instructions, sometimes in the vernacular, that accompanied romances, histories, or arcane religious texts in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The illuminator at work here apparently needed a helping hand: he had already deviated from normal practice in depicting the Circumcision at Nones in the Hours of the Virgin, instead of the canonical Presentation (of Christ) in the Temple. These, of course, are two distinct events in the New Testament narrative, though they occasionally came to be conflated in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. In our case, was this the result of specific instructions, local tradition, or mere oversight?
Book of Hours, Use of Rome, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 107, fol. 77r (miniature of the Circumcision of Christ in lieu of the habitual Presentation in the Temple)


The Star of Salvation, an unknown Franciscan devotional dialogue in Italian with a lost sister copy in Croatia

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 4/52

Stella di Salute, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 205, fol. 1r (introductory rubric with the name of the author and date of composition)

John Frederick Lewis’ wonderful collection of two hundred Western Medieval codices, dozens of non-European manuscripts, and thousands of cuttings and single leaves is justly famous. This outstanding ensemble has been housed at the Free Library of Philadelphia since it was gifted to the institution by John Frederick’s widow, Anne Baker Lewis, in 1933. Four years later, the two hundred codices were the subject of a summary catalogue authored by Edwin Wolf.[1] And yet the Free Library is home to more than fifty additional manuscripts, which were somewhat confusingly given “Lewis E” shelfmarks of 201 and above, that made their way to the Rare Book Department on the third floor of Parkway Central Library by other means. Because they were not published in the 1937 catalogue, these manuscripts are generally less well-known. Some, including the subject of today’s post, were in fact acquired earlier; in this case, through the William Pepper Fund seven years prior to the Lewis donation, in 1926.

This book, Lewis E 205, consists of an unpublished Italian devotional treatise, composed in question-and-answer form, entitled the Stella di Salute (Star of Salvation). The author, as stated in the introductory rubric (fol. 1r), is a Franciscan friar from the province of the Marche by the name of Santi de Bon Cor (unless this was a convenient pen name!). The text was composed, according to the rubric, on the twenty-fifth day of February, 1450. It is unclear whether the present copy is contemporary or slightly later in date; its script and style of decoration appear to be from the mid-fifteenth century. The book is written in an elegant, Southern Textualis or Rotunda script. The colophon on fol. 205v states that the scribe’s name was Faustino, unfortunately a rather common first name in fifteenth-century Italy.

Lewis E 205, fol. 250v (colophon with the name of the scribe, Faustino)

Lewis E 205, fol. 1r (detail of inhabited initial S with a haloed bishop)

The text begins with an illuminated first page containing a historiated initial S depicting a haloed bishop, though it is unclear who this might be intended to represent. A manuscript with the same text and with a similar number of folios, but apparently with more lavish decoration, is listed in Hans Folnesics’ survey of illuminated manuscripts in Dalmatia.[2] In Folsesics’ corpus, which was published in 1917, the sister manuscript is described as being housed in the library of the State Italian College of Zadar (Gimnasio superiore di Zara), at a time when Zadar was still part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Today, of course, Zadar is in the Republic of Croatia, but throughout the Middle Ages and early modern period it was closely linked to the Eastern coast of Italy and the Marche region via the Adriatic. Interestingly, the Zadar manuscript’s opening miniature is described as being quite a bit more complex, showing the Franciscan author embracing the bow of a ship named “gentil navicella,” upon which the figure of a woman stands, holding a rosary and pointing upwards to the Redeemer. If any readers are aware of the present-day location of this related manuscript, please do let us know!

[1] Edwin Wolf, A. S. W. Rosenbach, and Richard W. Ellis, A descriptive catalogue of the John Frederick Lewis collection of European manuscripts in the Free library of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Free Library of Philadelphia, 1937).

[2] Hans Folsenics, Die illuminierten Handschriften in Dalmatien (Leipzig: Hiersemann, 1917), p. 50