A little-known Guide for the Renaissance Merchant

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 23/52

Giorgio di Lorenzo Chiarini, Libro che tracta di marcantie et usanze di paesi, Tuscany (Florence?), 1481, scribe: Lodovicho Bertini, Philadelphia, Temple University Libraries, Special Collections Research Center, (SPC) MSS BH 007 COCH, fol. 9r

The cache of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts housed at Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center includes an overlooked source for our understanding of Renaissance economics: a rare manuscript copy of the commercial manual in Italian known as the Libro che tracta di marcantie et usanze di paesi or Book concerning the Trade and Customs of Various Places (MSS BH 007 COCH). This finely written manuscript represents a genre of text essential to the Renaissance merchant. In addition to learning the elements of mathematics and geometry (represented in items like the University of Pennsylvania’s LJS 27 and LJS 488), those who traded in the interconnected Mediterranean world of the fifteenth century needed to be well-informed about the types of goods available in a large number of cities, as well as the units of measure and coinage used, their denominations, and their exchange rates with major domestic currencies. Thus, the manuscript at Temple contains well-organized information for converting weights, measures, and money across Western Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Caucasus, with major sections devoted to the trading capitals of Florence, Venice, and Genoa. 

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Before Breakfast?? Instructions for Weekday Prayers in a Venetian Dialect

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 22/52

Book of Hours for the Use of Rome, University of Pennsylvania, Ms. Codex 688, fol. 13r

The Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project did not formally include manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania, which had already been digitized and made available on the OPenn repository several years ago. However, these manuscripts will soon be integrated within the BiblioPhilly browsing interface in an effort to produce a comprehensive digital resource for pre-modern manuscripts in the region. Preparations for the upcoming “Making the Renaissance Manuscript: Discoveries from Philadelphia Libraries” exhibition I am curating at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts (February–May 2020) have provided an additional reason for looking more closely at some of Penn’s European manuscripts, which still have plenty of secrets to reveal. As many of us know, mere digitization does not equal discovery! 

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All’antica: Getting up-to-date with the Ancients

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 21/52

Commissione issued to Andrea Valier by Leonardo Loredan, 1502, Bethlehem, Lehigh University, Linderman Library, Codex 21, fol. 1r (all’antica frontispiece illuminated by the First Pisani Master)

It is always gratifying to learn that one’s own manuscript “discovery” has already been made. Knowing that other scholars have come to the same opinion independently helps to confirm one’s intuitions and demonstrates that traditional methodologies can indeed be reliable when studying Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts.

Such was the case with a damaged and somewhat faded, but still very beautiful, frontispiece to a Commissione or Venetian charter preserved among the twenty-five or so Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The Commissione, issued to Andrea Valier by Doge Leonardo Loredan (reigned 1501–1517) in 1502, concerns Valier’s duties, rights, and obligations as podestà or civilian administrator of Piran, an Istrian town in present-day Slovenia that was under Venetian control from 1283 to the extinction of the republic in 1797. The manuscript is part of a wider genre of Venetian administrative records that came to be transformed into luxurious showpiece copies.

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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. 

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A Mineralogist’s “Sword in the Stone”

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 19/52

Choirbook, Italy (Siena?), c. 1300, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1883.53, fol. 247r and Neroccio de’ Landi, Panel with Saints Christina of Bolsena(?), Catherine of Alexandria, Jerome, and Galganus, c. 1470, Phipadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson Collection, 1917, cat. 1169 (detail of Saint Galganus)

Though the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts is best known for the lavish codices received from the Philadelphia collectors Philip S. Collins and Mary Shell Collins in 1945, it possesses two items that came to the museum much closer to the year of its foundation, 1876. At the time, the institution was known as the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art, before being renamed the Pennsylvania Museum of Art in 1929 (it would only acquire its current name a decade later). The first item is a Dutch Prayer Book received in 1882 (accession number 1882‑983), with no known prior provenance. The other book, received the following year, is a hefty but largely unadorned choirbook given to the museum by Clarence S. Bement, a Philadelphia philanthropist best known for his unparalleled collection of rare minerals (now mostly preserved at the Museum of Natural History in New York)!1 At least four other books in the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project, including the famous Lewis Psalter, were once in Bement’s collection. 

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