bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

A dated humanist manuscript at auction

Posted in Manuscripts by bonaelitterae on 25 November, 2008

The catalogue of the Sotheby’s sale on 3rd December is now available on-line. It includes one very interesting manuscript by a humanist scribe. It is a manuscript of St Ambrose, Hexameron, dated to 1446 by the scribe who also signs himself in code: he is Antonio Crivelli.

The catalogue entry talks of there being only two other manuscripts signed by him. In fact, there are at least nine others known to be by him: they are discussed by Massimo Zaggia in his seminal article, ‘Copisti e commitenti di codici a Milano nella prima metà del Quattrocento’, Libri e documenti, xxi (1995). Prof. Zaggia does not include this manuscript in his list, nor does it seem recently to have appeared at auction (I say on the basis of a quick search of the Schoenberg Database). As the title of Zaggia’s article suggests, Crivelli was Milanese and the illumination of this manuscript is the style related to the Master of the Vitae Imperatorum (a designation which has become so widely used, the Master’s workshop would have to be have been working over-time). Milan had its own distinct response to the Florentine invention, or revival, of littera antiqua, most notable in the circle of Pier Candido Decembrio but Crivelli wrote a bookhand more fully consonant with the Florentine reforms. He is unusual among his humanist brethren not for naming himself but for doing so in code, sometimes following the colophon ‘Libri scriptorem bone iesu fac meliorem’, as in this manuscript and in a copy of Suetonius in the Trivulziana, and dated 1444. That latter manuscript was made for the bishop of Novara, Bartolomeo Visconti, and one wonders whether this manuscript, in which the coat-of-arms at the foot of the first folio is now damaged but clearly formed of four quarters, was transcribed for the same owner. I have not had — and fear I will not have time to — visit New Bond Street to see this codex in the flesh. Who, I wonder, will buy this elegant manuscript in such torrid times?