The great intellectual movement of Renaissance Italy was humanism. The humanists believed that the Greek and Latin classics contained both all the lessons one needed to lead a moral and effective life and the best models for a powerful Latin style. They developed a new, rigorous kind of classical scholarship, with which they corrected and tried to understand the works of the Greeks and Romans, which seemed so vital to them.
Both the republican elites of Florence and Venice and the ruling families of Milan, Ferrara, and Urbino hired humanists to teach their children classical morality and to write elegant, classical letters, histories, and propaganda. In the course of the fifteenth century, the humanists also convinced most of the popes that the papacy needed their skills. Sophisticated classical scholars were hired to write official correspondence and propaganda; to create an image of the popes as powerful, enlightened, modern rulers of the Church; and to apply their scholarly tools to the church's needs, including writing a more classical form of the Mass. The relation between popes and scholars was never simple, for the humanists evolved their own views on theology. Some argued that pagan philosophers like Plato basically agreed with Christian revelation. Others criticized important Church doctrines or institutions that lacked biblical or historical support. Some even seemed in danger of becoming pagans. The real confrontation came in the later sixteenth century, as the church faced the radical challenge of Protestantism. Some Roman scholars used the methods of humanist scholarship to defend the Church against Protestant attacks, but others collaborated in the imposition of censorship. Classical scholarship, in the end, could not reform the Church which it both supported and challenged.
Costanzo Felici, Historia de coniuratione Catilinae (History of the Catilinarian Conspiracy)
In the High Renaissance, Rome was the center of the literary movement known as "Ciceronianism" that aimed to standardize Latin diction by modelling all prose on the writings of Cicero. The leaders of the movement hoped thereby to make Latin usage more precise and elegant; they also hoped to establish a kind of linguistic orthodoxy maintained by the authority of Rome. Pietro Bembo and Jacopo Sadoleto, Pope Leo X's two Latin secretaries, were the leaders of the movement. Bembo, famously, took an oath no use no word that did not appear in Cicero. Although Cicero had been admired and imitated by Renaissance humanists from the time of Petrarch on, now admiration was elevated almost into worship. One example of this maniacal Ciceronianism is this "History," written by an ambitious young cleric for presentation to Leo X. In it, Costanzo Felici confected a politically-correct revision of Sallust's "Catilinarian Conspiracy," in which Cicero's role in suppressing Catiline, largely dismissed by Sallust himself, was magnified to superhuman proportions.
Costanzo Felici, Historia de coniuratione Catilinae (History of the Catilinarian Conspiracy). In Latin. Dedication copy for Leo X. Early sixteenth century
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Pius II (Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini), Commentaries
Although humanists had thronged the papal court since the beginning of the century, Pius II was the first real humanist to sit in the chair of Peter. Born in Siena as Enea Silvio Piccolomini, he acquired a reputation as a diplomat, belletrist, and womanizer, and was crowned poet laureate by the Emperor Frederick in 1442. After serving the emperor and the anti-Roman Council of Basel, Piccolomini joined the Roman camp in 1446. He became a cardinal in 1456 and in 1458 was elected pope. As pope, the only work of scholarship he was able to continue was his "Commentaries," a remarkably frank autobiography in which he put his passions and prejudices on full view. In the passage shown here, Pius expresses his bitter contempt for the French, who had been unwilling to join his crusade against the Great Turk.
Pius II (Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini), Commentaries. In Latin. Autograph. Fifteenth century
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In the end, it proved impossible to consummate the marriage of humanism and the Catholic condition. In the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, a few humanists thought they could use their skills as scholars to reanimate the church. Humanist theologians insisted that the formal theology of the universities was far less valuable than a direct knowledge of the biblical text, and that the documents that supported the church's priveleges should be subjected to critical scrutiny, like any others. But even in the early Renaissance, these men came under fire from the professionals they criticized. And in the later sixteenth century, as the Protestants mounted their radical challenge to papal supremacy and Catholic orthodoxy, the Roman church became a center not only of scholarly inquiry but of systematic censorship. Even the staff of the library took part in suppressing facts and ideas that proved inconvenient--like the fact that important documents of the canon law were fakes. By the end of the sixteenth century, the church was less interested in wedding humanism than in taming it.
Antonio da Rho, O.F.M., Tres Dialogi in Lactantium
One of the issues on which some humanist intellectuals parted ways with traditional scholasticism was the nature of theology. Most scholastics believed that theology was a science, to be learned and taught by qualified professionals trained in logic and familiar with the recognized authorities. A vocal minority of humanists, such as Lorenzo Valla and Erasmus, challenged this claim, arguing that "the philosophy of Christ," i.e. the message of Christianity, could be learned by any educated person who studied the Bible with piety. These humanists claimed that their philological style of Biblical exegesis was modelled on the practice of the ancient Christian Fathers, whose authority should be preferred to that of modern scholastic doctors. The humanists of course found many opponents among contemporary scholastics, one of whom, Antonio da Rho, was the author of the volume displayed here. In it, Antonio tries to discredit the automatic humanist equation of earlier with better by showing that one of the early Christian writers, Lactantius (ca. 240 - ca. 340), had made numerous theological errors to which later scholastic writers had not been subject. This dedication copy for Pope Eugene IV has a colorful decorative border with a miniature showing the Franciscan friar presenting his work to the pope.
Antonio da Rho, O.F.M., Tres Dialogi in Lactantium. (Three dialogues against Lactantius). In Latin. Parchment. Rome. Dedication copy for Pope Eugene IV. ca. 1450
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Marsilio Ficino, Epistulae (Letters)
In addition to the revival of ancient literature, the humanist movement also encouraged a revival of ancient philosophy. The medieval universities had been dominated philosophically by Aristotle, but the humanists insisted on the importance of other ancient philosophers as well--the Stoics, the Epicureans, the Skeptics, and most of all, the Platonists. The revival of Christian Platonism was the most important philosophical and theological movement of the later fifteenth century. Its chief protagonist was Marsilio Ficino, a Florentine humanist who had a number of patrons and followers in Rome. The volume on display is a presentation copy of Ficino's letters (really letter-treatises on Platonic themes) to one of Ficino's Roman patrons, Cardinal Francesco della Rovere. The portrait medallion by Francesco Rosselli depicts Cosimo de'Medici, Ficino's most important early patron. An exchange of letters between Cosimo de'Medici and Ficino opens Book I.
Marsilio Ficino, Epistulae (Letters). In Latin. Presentation copy for Cardinal Francesco della Rovere (later Sixtus IV). Probably copied by Bastiano Salvini. Illuminated by Francesco Rosselli. Parchment. Florence. 1475/76
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Congregation of the Index, Censure of Cardinal Pietro Bembo's poetry
No documents better show the sharp shift in attitudes between the High and the Late Renaissance Church than these reviewing the publications of Cardinal Pietro Bembo (1470-1547), who died a quarter century before the founding of the Congregation of the Index. Bembo had been one of the great literary dictators of Europe whose Neoplatonic allegories had been the height of fashion and whose love-letters to great ladies such as Lucrezia Borgia had excited no adverse comment. After the Council of Trent, however, his works began to seem a bit frivolous, even dangerous, at least to the humorless bureaucrats of the Congregation. The witness whose testimony is summarized here, for instance, charges the late cardinal's Neoplatonic love poetry with "mixing holy things with profane, and using false opinions contrary to the faith while at a masque."
Congregation of the Index, Censure of Cardinal Pietro Bembo's poetry. In Latin. Paper. Rome. Last quarter of the sixteenth century
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Congregation of the Index, Censure of Carlo Sigonio's Commentary on Sulpicius Severus
In its efforts to fight the spread of Protestant heresies, the church was, in the end, forced to impose a degree of censorship that had a chilling effect on certain activities of humanists, especially the writing of history and philosophy. Like other European princes, the popes made spasmodic efforts to suppress dangerous books in the early sixteenth century. After the Council of Trent, however, these efforts became more systematic. Heretical books were placed on an "Index of Prohibited Books;" their readers and publishers were automatically excommunicated; and a system of ecclesiastical censorship was established under the control of the local diocese and the Congregation for the Index (founded 1571) in Rome. The documents on display come from the office of the Congregation for the Index, and consist of testimony regarding the orthodoxy of a publication by the famous "liberal" Catholic historian Carlo Sigonio, attacked here for "imitating Lorenzo Valla" in his view on the Donation of Constantine--a document, forged in the eighth century, purporting to record a grant, by the fourth-century Emperor Constantine, of supreme power over the Empire to the See of Saint Peter. Lorenzo Valla, the great humanist scholar, had exposed the document as a forgery in the fifteenth century. Sigonio like most competent scholars of the sixteenth century accepted Valla's judgment, but was forced by the Congregation to suppress his real views in the published version of his book.
Congregation of the Index, Censure of Carlo Sigonio's Commentary on Sulpicius Severus. In Latin. Paper. Rome. Last quarter of the sixteenth century
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Congregation of the Index, ensure of Carlo Sigonio
Traditional interpretations of the Bible were challenged on two fronts in the sixteenth century. On one side, Protestants like Luther and Calvin claimed that the original "evangelical" interpretation of the Bible had been lost owing to medieval corruptions and that only the Protestants understood the real, ancient meaning of the Bible. On the other, humanist scholars like Erasmus challenged traditional interpretations, showing that they rested on corrupt texts or anachronistic assumptions about the meaning of the texts. In the heat of Counter-Reformation controversy, these two kinds of criticism were often confounded. One party in the church which, while rejecting Protestantism, was concerned with purifying traditional usages and understandings in accordance with the best scholarship, was the so-called "Erasmian" wing, which fell into disrepute after the Council of Trent. Sigonio, who had many connections with Erasmian Catholics, also suffered from this reaction. The witness whose testimony is recorded in the documents on display charges Sigonio with "insinuating the error of Erasmus, who asserted there could be errors in the books of Holy Scripture owing to the human condition of copyists." (fol. 69 recto)
Congregation of the Index, ensure of Carlo Sigonio. In Latin. Paper. Rome. Last quarter of the sixteenth century
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Filippo de' Barbieri, O.P., De discordantia inter Eusebium Hieronymum es Aurelium Augustinum approbatus Sybillarum dictis omniumque gentilium et venterum propheyarum qui de Christo vaticinati sunt
One of the fashionable historical myths of High Renaissance Rome was the legend that has come to be known as "ancient theology." Misinterpreting certain late antique sources such as the Hermetic Corpus, Lactantius, and Eusebius, Renaissance Platonists came to believe that Christianity was merely the latest and best form of divine revelation to the human race. They argued that pagan religious traditions had also been based on revelations to great religious thinkers such as Plato and Hermes Trismegistus, and that high paganism conveyed divine truths identical to those of Christianity, though more obscurely. The female prophets of the pagans--the sibyls--came to be seen as parallel to the Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament--an interpretation underlying Michelangelo's depiction of prophets and sibyls on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In the work on display, printed thirty years before Michelangelo, a Platonizing Dominican theologian appealed to the authority of the pagan sibyls to interpret doctrinal differences between Jerome and Augustine, much as a medieval scholastic might have cited an Old Testament prophet to cast light on the New Testament or on the writings of later Christian authorities. The two sibyls depicted here are the Samian and Cumaean sibyls; the latter predicted the virgin birth of Christ, according to a famous old interpretation of Virgil's "Fourth Eclogue."
Filippo de' Barbieri, O.P., De discordantia inter Eusebium Hieronymum es Aurelium Augustinum approbatus Sybillarum dictis omniumque gentilium et venterum propheyarum qui de Christo vaticinati sunt. (On the Discord between Jerome and Augustine, Settled Using Dicta of the Sibyls and of all the Gentiles, both Prophets and Ancient Poets who Prophesied Concerning Christ). In Latin. Dedicated to Sixtus IV. Presentation copy for Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua. Rome: Johannes Philippus de Lignamine. 1481
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The humanists of the Renaissance believed that their mission was to revive the high Roman style of writing pure and eloquent Latin. When that flourished, "painting, sculpture, modelling, and architecture" would flourish as well--so Lorenzo Valla told the readers of his great treatise on Latin usage. But this program had powerful implications for the church. Scholars at the curia translated the Fathers of the Church into elegant classical Latin. They wrote Latin letters and histories on behalf of the popes. And they even tinkered with the church's traditional liturgy, trying to make prayers and hymns attractively classical. Humanist secretaries and popes wrote dazzling Latin. But when they insisted on calling the Christian God "Jupiter" and Christian churches "temples," they raised serious questions in many onlookers' minds. Even Erasmus, the great Dutch classical scholar who loved Latin and wrote it brilliantly, thought the curia tried too hard to be classical and wrote a brilliant satire of the Roman followers of Cicero.
Theophylact, In epistula a. Paulis commentarius (Commentary on Paul's Letters)
The growing knowledge of Greek in the Latin West was not only a boon to the study of ancient Greek authors, but also led to a new interest in the literary scholarship of Byzantium. The works of Theophylact of Euboea, an eleventh-century Byzantine exegete who had studied with the Platonist Michael Psellus, were especially welcome in the West owing to his conciliatory position on the Schism--Theophylact defended the Roman Catholic position against Greek intransigence on a number of key theological issues. In the fifteenth century his works were translated into Latin by Christoforo Persona, a native of Rome who had studied in Greece, probably under Gemistus Pletho, and had accompanied the Greek Orthodox delegation as an interpreter to the Council of Union in 1437/38. Persona later became the head of the Williamite order in Rome and papal librarian under Sixtus IV. The illumination by Matteo Felice shows Persona presenting his translation to Sixtus IV.
Theophylact, In epistula a. Paulis commentarius (Commentary on Paul's Letters). Latin translation by Cristoforo Persona. Illuminated by Matteo Felice. Dedication copy for Sixtus IV. Parchment. Fifteenth century
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Chrysostom, In evangelium s. Matthei commentarius (Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew)
Renaissance humanists not only sought out and translated works of pagan Greek antiquity, they were equally concerned about making the Greek writings of the Fathers of the Church available in the West. The humanists of the papal court had a special interest in the revival of Christian antiquity--command of the ancient Greek sources of Christian doctrine would help solidify the papal claim to headship over Greek as well as Latin Christendom. This translation of the great Christian preacher Chrysostom (ca. 347- 407) was the work of the learned, but wildly eccentric, George Trebizond of Crete. A convert to Roman Catholicism, Trebizond came to believe himself a prophet, and identified Cardinal Bessarion as the secret enemy of Latin Christendom, responsible for spreading Platonism and other forms of Orthodox devilry to the West. In his more lucid moments Trebizond translated an extraordinary number of pagan and Christian Greek writings for a succession of popes. In the scene depicted here, Trebizond presents his translation to Nicolas V; the bearded cardinal is Bessarion.
Chrysostom, In evangelium s. Matthei commentarius (Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew). Latin translation by George Trebizond. Dedication copy for Nicolas V. Parchment. Rome. 1448
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Sallust, Bellum Catilinae, Bellum Iugurthinum (Histories)
Another great book collector of the fifteenth century was Bernardo Bembo, Venetian diplomat and patrician, the father of the more famous Pietro Bembo. A number of Bembo's manuscripts were written by Bartolomeo San Vito, who is widely held to be the finest scribe of the Renaissance. San Vito was born in Padua and worked in Mantua, Rome, and Naples before returning to his native city. He worked closely with his illuminator, a disciple of Mantegna, to create a new style of frontispiece. Florentine humanists in the earlier part of the century had revived the "white-vine stem" form of decoration which they thought to be ancient but in fact was twelfth-century and Tuscan. The Paduan/Mantuan school of illuminators, working closely with antiquaries such as Fra Giocondo of Verona, Felice Feliciano, and the artist Mantegna, evolved a new, more classical style. This style had no direct ancient models, but was a pastiche of antique decorative elements, such as urns, medallions, garlands and putti. Its major innovations were the introduction of capital letters modelled on ancient inscriptions (in place of the modified Gothic capitals employed by early Tuscan humanists) and the treatment of the title page as though it were an inscribed stone monument or architectural gateway into the book--features which became common in the frontispieces of sixteenth-century printed books. This manuscript was later owned by Pope Julius II, whose coat of arms was painted over that of Bembo.
Sallust, Bellum Catilinae, Bellum Iugurthinum (Histories). In Latin. Parchment. Copied by Bartolomeo San Vito for Bernardo Bembo. 1471-84
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Pietro Bembo, Letters Written for Leo X
Pietro Bembo, writer, scholar, and collector, was among the most eminent and influential literary men of the sixteenth century. He served as secretary to Pope Leo X (1513-1521) and in 1539 became a cardinal. His elegant Ciceronian Latin set the standard for learned and diplomatic correspondence throughout Europe. His autograph letters, such as the one on display, provide a good sample of "chancery italic," a script developed by Roman humanists in the late fifteenth century from the humanist cursive minuscule invented by the Florentine humanist Niccolo Niccoli in the 1420s. Calligraphic forms of chancery Italic were popularized by such famous Roman writing masters as Ludovico Arrighi and Giovambattista Palatino in the early sixteenth century. By the seventeenth century the script was being taught to schoolchildren everywhere in Europe, except Germany.
Pietro Bembo, Letters Written for Leo X. In Latin. Autograph. Rome. Sixteenth century
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Raffaele Maffei, Office for the Feast of San Vittorio of Volterra
Even the liturgy of the church responded to the spread of classicism in the fifteenth century. The traditional hymns, readings, and homilies of the medieval church began to look rude and old-fashioned, out of touch with modern literary taste. A number of Roman humanists obligingly rewrote liturgies in the new, classical style favored by Renaissance popes. Others delivered homilies modelled on the speeches of the great classical orators rather than on traditional sermons. In this example, the humanist and papal bureaucrat Raffaele Maffei, "il Volterrano," recast traditional hymns to San Vittorio (the patron saint of his home town, Volterra) in various Horatian meters, adding a biography of the saint in Ciceronian Latin.
Raffaele Maffei, Office for the Feast of San Vittorio of Volterra. In Latin. Autograph. Paper. Early sixteenth century
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Henry VIII of England, Assertio septem sacramentorum adversus Martinum Lutherum (A vindication of the seven sacraments, against Martin Luther)
With the spread of the Reformation in the early sixteenth century, Roman humanists found a new use for their rhetorical and literary skills. Humanists in both Catholic and Protestant camps exchanged broadsides, treatises, and invectives supporting or condemning Luther's proposed reforms. Probably the most famous humanist composition defending the church was ascribed, ironically enough, to King Henry VIII of England, who would later break with Rome and declare himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Though the king himself had had something of a humanist education, it is believed that the work was ghost-written by a committee of humanists and theologians, including Sir Thomas More. This book, probably the dedication copy, is printed on parchment with illumination added by hand over a woodcut frontispiece.
Henry VIII of England, Assertio septem sacramentorum adversus Martinum Lutherum (A vindication of the seven sacraments, against Martin Luther). In Latin. Parchment. London. (Dedication copy for Leo X). 1521
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Bessarion, Orationes et epistolae ad Christianos principes contra Turcos (Orations and letters to Christian princes against the Turks)
Cardinal Bessarion--scholar, diplomat, book collector, and Platonic philosopher--was among the most remarkable men of his century. He was born an Orthodox Christian in Trebizond in Asia Minor, entered the Greek church as a priest, and converted to Latin Catholicism at the Council of Florence in 1438. Made a cardinal in 1439, he was twice nearly elected pope. The two great missions of his life were to preserve in the West the cultural heritage of Greek and Byzantine civilization, and to organize a great crusade against the Turks to reconquer Constantinople and the Christian lands lost to the Ottoman invaders. In the first of his goals he succeeded magnificently; he trained an entire generation of Hellenists in Rome and formed a great collection of Greek manuscripts which he left to the city of Venice, where it became the nucleus of the famous Biblioteca Marciana. In his second goal he failed, despite heroic efforts as a diplomat and publicist.
On display is a collection of letters and orations Bessarion composed in the hope of stirring the princes of Europe to action against the Turks. Bessarion--who had a remarkably prescient sense of the power of the press--sent a copy to his friend Guillaume Fichet, Rector of the University of Paris, to be printed on the university printing presses. He then commissioned illuminators to decorate several copies for presentation to the great princes of Europe. The copy on display was presented to King Edward IV of England; similar copies, sent to Louis IX of France, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III, and Amadeus of Savoy, have also been identified in modern collections.
Bessarion, Orationes et epistolae ad Christianos principes contra Turcos (Orations and letters to Christian princes against the Turks). In Latin. Parchment. Paris: Gering, Crantz and Friberger. 1471
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Demosthenes, Olynthiaca prima (First Olynthiac Oration)
Among Bessarion's many scholarly writings, his translations hold no small place. Bessarion always intended them to be directly relevent to contemporary issues. His translation of Demosthenes' "First Olynthiac Oration" is an excellent example. Demosthenes' speech, written in the fourth century B.C., calls upon the Athenians to take immediate military action against Philip of Macedon while they can still defend themselves; he chides them for appeasement; he frightens them by describing the tyrannical nature of Philip's regime; he urges them not to let political rivalries with allied cities take precedence over the task of defeating the common enemy. The parallel to the contemporary Turkish threat was exact, to Bessarion's mind, and his marginal notes, shown here, emphasize the point.
Demosthenes, Olynthiaca prima (First Olynthiac Oration). Latin translation by Cardinal Bessarion. Paper. Rome. Third quarter of the fifteenth century
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Roberto Valturio, De re militari (On matters military)
Humanism, which began as a movement to revive ancient literature and education, soon turned to other fields as well. Humanists tried to apply ancient lessons to areas as diverse as agriculture, politics, social relations, architecture, music, and medicine. In the book on display, the minor humanist Roberto Valturio has tried to gather the military wisdom of the ancients for the use of his patron, the condottiere Sigismondo Malatesta of Rimini. Sigismondo was the nemesis of Pius II, who accused him of monstrous crimes and, in a unique action, "canonized" him to Hell after his death. But military secrets, in the fifteenth as in the present century, do not remain secret for long, and the present volume was in the hands of Sigismondo's great rival, Federigo da Montefeltro, within a dozen years of its composition. The text of the treatise is considered the most important Renaissance forbear of Machiavelli's Art of War, while the rather fanciful illustrations are thought to have influenced some of Leonardo da Vinci's designs for war machines.
Roberto Valturio, De re militari (On matters military). In Latin. Copied for Federigo da Montefeltro by Sigismundus Nicholaus Alamanius. Parchment. 1462
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In the Middle Ages, magnificent illumination such as this was rarely used in the decoration of secular texts. In the Renaissance, though sacred texts continued to receive the most sumptuous decoration, secular texts began to rival them for elegance of script, illumination, and binding. The manuscript on display contains the works of Virgil, who, with Cicero, was the most important of all ancient authors for the humanists. This is perhaps the most lavishly illustrated of all copies of Virgil in existence. It was made for Federigo da Montefeltro of Urbino, the commander-in-chief of the papal army, who was also the greatest book collector of the fifteenth century. Federigo's library, collected between 1460 and 1482, totalled well over 900 manuscripts in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Most of the volumes were "bespoke", that is, written and decorated expressly for Federigo's collection. A great many were ordered from the Florentine bookseller Vespasiano da Bisticci. According to Vespasiano's memoirs, Federigo had thirty to forty scribes continually at work for him for twenty years to create his extraordinary collection.
Virgil, Aeneid. In Latin. Decoration by Guglielmo Giraldi. Parchment. Third quarter of the fifteenth century
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Le nozze di Costantio Sforza e Camilla d'Aragona
State weddings have always been occasions for public celebrations, and never more so than during the Renaissance, an age famous for pageantry and festival. This fifteenth-century wedding book records the festivities surrounding the marriage of two minor members of great Italian families--Costantio Sforza, nephew of the Duke of Milan, and Camilla of Aragon, natural daughter of the King of Naples, in 1475. Their son Giovanni married Lucrezia Borgia in 1493. The wedding book contains copies of the poems and speeches written in honor of the occasion (including a two-hour-long Latin oration by the minor humanist Pandolfo Colenuccio), an account of the banquets and jousting, and drawings, shown here, of the costumes and floats.
Le nozze di Costantio Sforza e Camilla d'Aragona. (The marriage of Costantio Sforza and Camilla of Aragon). In Latin and Italian. Copied for Costantio Sforza by Lionardo da Colle. Parchment. 1480
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The basis of all the humanists' achievements was their mastery of Latin and Greek grammar. Grammar in the Renaissance had a broader meaning than it has today, comprising not only the study of accidence and syntax, but also the critical restoration and interpretation of texts--the whole art of textual interpretation. The Latin grammarians of late antiquity were, naturally, the first models for humanist grammatical study. But with the recovery of Greek literature during the fifteenth century, the West also gained access to the Greek tradition of grammatical writing, which was much more theoretical in character. Some Greek grammarians, such as Diomedes, the author of this work, were even interested in Latin literature, and so pioneered the comparative study of literature in different languages. This comparative approach was imitated by Renaissance humanists such as Valla and Angelo Poliziano. The elegant format and decoration of the present volume testify to the importance of grammatical study in Renaissance culture. On the right, a teacher lectures to an unimpressed group of young men. On the left, he administers discipline.
Diomedes, Grammatica. In Latin. Parchment. Third quarter of the fifteenth century
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The humanists dedicated themselves to reviving antiquity--that is, to searching for, copying, and studying the works of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Poggio Bracciolini, a long-time employee of the church, was the most brilliant of the early fifteenth-century manuscript hunters. He braved what he described as the squalid, neglected libraries of Germany, Switzerland, and England in his quest for new texts. Later in the century, curial scholars began to collate--and digest--the new mass of material, and to translate vital Greek sources, like the works of Herodotus and Thucydides. Not all of these texts were clearly acceptable to Christians, or even consistently moral. But Roman intellectuals prized problematical works like the epigrams of Martial as well as moral ones like most of the dialogues of Plato. Vatican manuscripts enable us to follow the humanists at work, writing in the margins of their texts and then collecting and publishing their notes as scholarly works. These glimpses of how texts passed from script to print are among the Vatican's most remarkable--and revealing--holdings.
Martial, Epigrammaton (Epigrams)
Though clearly not Christian, and sometimes obscene, the Roman epigrammatist Martial was a favorite author among curial humanists. In the 1470s, Pomponio Leto encouraged Niccolo Perotti, a prominent member of Cardinal Bessarion's circle, to edit their common efforts to explain the difficult text of Martial's Epigrams. This manuscript was annotated by both Leto and Perotti. In a marginal note Perotti explains a Latin word by giving its Greek etymology, striblo.
Martial, Epigrammaton (Epigrams). In Latin. Copied by Niccolo Perotti, with marginalia by Perotti and Pomponio Leto. Coat of Arms of Niccolo Perotti. Parchment. Rome. Third quarter of the fifteenth century
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In addition to the rediscovery of ancient Latin texts, an important goal of the humanists' cultural program was the translation of ancient Greek literature into Latin. The knowledge of Greek spread rapidly among Italian humanists of the fifteenth century, thanks largely to the influence of Byzantine emigres and refugees, but was always something of a luxury; Latin remained the basic means of communication among the learned. Hence the interest of patrons and humanists alike in making the literature of the Greeks available to educated westerners in Latin versions. The volume on display was the first translation into a western language of Herodotus, "the Father of History," the source and model for much of classical historiography, undertaken by the most famous Roman humanist of the mid-fifteenth century, the brilliant and controversial Lorenzo Valla. This was a presentation copy for Pope Pius II's nephew, Cardinal Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini, a great Roman book-collector and a leading patron of fine calligraphy and book illustration.
Herodotus, Historiae. Latin translation by Lorenzo Valla. Copied by Johannes Monasteriensis. Frontispiece decorated by Andrea da Firenze. Dedicated to Pope Pius II. Parchment. Third quarter of the fifteenth century
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Niccolò Perotti, Cornucopia
Niccolò Perotti compiled a vast commentary on Martial under the title Cornucopia and dedicated the work to the papal condottiere Federigo da Montefeltro. Later the work was revised and expanded by Perotti's son Pyrrhus, using the dedication copy lent him by Federigo's son Guido. Pyrrhus made a number of additions of his own on the grounds that "with commentaries of this sort, the longer they are, the better." In this document we can see how Perotti incorporated the etymology offered in the earlier manuscript into the text of his Cornucopia. We can also see how Pyrrhus has expanded his father's note in a marginal annotation.
Niccolò Perotti, Cornucopia. In Latin. Presentation copy for Federigo da Montefeltro. Marginalia by Pyrrhus Perotti. Parchment. Third quarter of the fifteenth century
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Janus Lascaris, ed., Homeri interpres (Commentary on Homer)
The fifteenth century saw not only the revival of ancient Roman culture in the West, but the death of the Roman--or Byzantine-- Empire in the East. Throughout the fifteenth century, cultural debris from the wrecked empire--men, antiquities, and books-- streamed westward, where they enriched the burgeoning civilization of Renaissance Italy. Janus Lascaris was one of many Greek scholars who found a warm welcome and an eager audience among Western patrons and scholars. Lorenzo de'Medici put him in charge of acquiring in the East a collection of manuscripts that he dreamed might one day rival the legendary library of Alexandria. Years later, Lorenzo's grandson, Leo X, made Lascaris professor of Greek at the University of Rome and a prominent member of his "Neacademia" or New Academy. The book on display is the product of Lascaris's careful Homeric scholarship: a collection of ancient notes on the text, culled from old manuscripts. The colophon tells us that this book was printed on a Greek printing press located in the house of Angelo Colocci, a high curial official who was also a wealthy patron of the humanities.
Janus Lascaris, ed., Homeri interpres (Commentary on Homer). In Greek. Rome. 1517
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The first task in the humanists' revival of ancient literary culture was the rediscovery and collection of the surviving literary monuments of the ancient world. The most famous and successful of these literary explorers was the papal secretary, Poggio Bracciolini, who rediscovered texts of Quintilian, Asconius, Valerius Flaccus, Lucretius, Silius Italicus, Ammianus Marcellinus and ten hitherto unknown orations of Cicero. This book, containing eight of these recovered orations, was copied by Poggio while book-hunting in Cologne and Langres during the summer of 1417. The colophon on fol. 49 verso may be translated, "This oration, formerly lost owing to the fault of the times, Poggio restored to the Latin-speaking world and brought it back to Italy, having found it hidden in Gaul, in the woods of Langres, and having written it in memory of Tully [Cicero] and for the use of the learned."
Cicero, Orations. In Latin. Paper. Copied by the papal secretary Poggio Bracciolini while on leave from the Council of Constance. 1417
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Niccolò Perotti, Cornucopia
Both Niccolò's and Pyrrhus's notes were incorporated in the first printed edition of the Cornucopia. In the preface to the Venetian edition, the editor, Ludovicus Odaxius, thanks Guido da Montefeltro for lending him the dedication copy annotated by Pirro for the printed version.
Niccolò Perotti, Cornucopia. In Latin. Edited by Pyrrhus Perotti and Ludovicus Odaxius. Paper. Venice: Paganinus de Paganinis Brixiensis. 1489
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Cardinal Maffeo Barberini (Urban VIII), Poemata (Poems)
The most visible symbol of the Renaissance of the Roman Church during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries was the destruction of Old Saint Peter's and the erection in its place, in a more classical idiom, of the famous basilica now standing in Saint Peter's Square. This was an act of colossal self-assurance that could only, perhaps, have been initiated by Pope Julius II. In other areas, too, the popes displayed a willingness to dispense with medieval traditions, to "purify" tired and "corrupt" usages by returning back to classical sources. The liturgy and hymnology of the Church, for example, received a thorough "repristinatio" during the same period. This volume is an example of this process, consisting of traditional medieval hymns such as the "Salve Regina" and the "Primum dierum omnium" rewritten in elegaic couplets in the antique fashion. It was the work of Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, who later became Pope Urban VIII. It was he, in fact, who more than any other pope was responsible for the interior decoration of Saint Peter's, aided by the greatist artist of the seventeenth century, Bernini, for whose meteoric rise to fame Urban was largely responsible. It is fitting that Bernini should have designed the engravings for this deluxe reprint of Urban's early poetic effusions.
Cardinal Maffeo Barberini (Urban VIII), Poemata (Poems). In Latin. Engravings designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Rome. 1631
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