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! 

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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. 

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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. 

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