bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

Lectures on English Humanist Scripts

Posted in Humanism, Manuscripts, Uncategorized by bonaelitterae on 14 October, 2013

My new identities are causing confusion to more than just me, it seems, so let me begin with a double clarification. No, I am not teaching at the University of Exeter, and, no, I am not giving the Lyell Lectures.

Exeter has a fine cathedral and there are some very good restaurants. But it cannot claim to be England’s oldest recorded town, where the Norman Castle, second only to the Tower of London in size, is set on the foundations of a Roman temple. I am, as I have explained before, now an Essex man, based at the University whose postal address is Colchester, though its campus is closer to the attractive river-side village of Wivenhoe (something happened to the sense of direction in the early 1960s when the new universities were founded — witness also the misnamed University of Warwick[shire]).

That is not to say that my life is now confined to the East of England. Indeed, my existential uncertainty is not about who I am but where I am each day. I may be teaching in Essex but I also have long-standing commitments in Oxford, including giving a set of lectures on my research, beginning on Thursday 17th October. This series is generously sponsored by the J. P. R. Lyell Fund but is — to repeat — decidedly not this year’s Lyell Lectures. There are not really many grounds for confusion: after all, the Lyell Lectures are an annual event when a leading scholar invited by the Electors presents on an area where they are an acknowledged expert. If that was not enough of a give-away, there is also the fact that those for 2013 have already been given, by Richard Beadle, and the identity of the Lyell Lecturer for 2014 is already known: it will be the Rector of Lincoln, Henry Woudhuysen.

The Lyell Fund’s involvement in my forthcoming set of lectures is that they have supported much of the research that is their basis, and a condition of their grant to me was that I provide a series. I should add that they have been joined by others in funding the research: the Paul Mellon Centre, the British School at Rome (my second home) and, further back in time, the Neil Ker Fund of the British Academy all deserve the warmest thanks.

The lectures, then, are one result of my recent project which has been to focus my long-term interest in humanist palaeogrpahy by producing a catalogue of English Humanist Scripts up to c. 1509. That catalogue will be published in the series ‘The Handwriting of the Italian Humanists’, overseen by the indomitable Anthony Hobson; its previous volumes have been Tilly de la Mare’s classic survey of the scripts of Poggio Bracciolini, Niccolò Niccoli and others, and the detailed study of the master of italic, Bartolomeo Sanvito begun by Tilly and ably completed by Laura Nuvolini. That work will present, scribe by scribe, a detailed discussion of their practices. What these lectures allow me to do is to tease out and emphasise the arguments which run through the catalogue as an undercurrent. I will be emphasising, then, how we need to revise our chronology of the ‘spread’ of humanism and, more widely, to question the very concept of ‘spread’; I will be providing plentiful evidence for the cosmopolitanism of humanist book arts, in England but also in Italy; I will consider how and why scribes came to adopt a practice we identify as ‘Roman’ or Italian — and how they also, at times, dispensed with it. In the process, I will be present new characters central to the history of humanism in England who have not previously been mentioned: they will include England’s first humanist scribe and the person I like to consider Scotland’s first humanist. I hope to see you there.

A full list of the titles of these lectures is provided on this site .

A previously unnoticed manuscript annotated by John Tiptoft

Posted in Manuscripts, Uncategorized by bonaelitterae on 17 December, 2012

Manuscripts have a tendency to creep up on you when you are looking elsewhere, tap you on the shoulder and then punch you between the eyes. That has been my experience today in the Vatican Library. I called up a manuscript because of what is known of its late fifteenth-century provenance and did not expect to find staring up at me from the lectern a codex made several decades earlier, clearly (from the illumination) in Milan and, what is more, in a script very close to that of Milanus Burrus: he was a highly accomplished scribe who developed his own response to the Florentine palaeographical reforms and created a mise-en-page that reminds us that you do not need to have illumination on the parchment to be looking at a work of art.

And when one manuscript has softened you up, another then comes in and knocks you sideways. As this is my last day of this research trip, I was attempting to tie things up neatly — whenever you do that, the books tend to have other plans for you. So, revisiting the manuscript of his Synesius translation that John Free made, with little expense spared, for Paul II, I wanted to compare the capitals and so ordered up another volume for comparison. The volume was MS. Vat. lat. 3162, a copy of Juvenal and Persius which is known to be Paduan and has interventions by Bartolomeo Sanvito, though, as Laura Nuvoloni explains in the sumptuous recent volume in ‘The Handwriting of the Italian Humanists’ series, the main scribe is a separate person, writing in a similar style. What caught me off-guard was that, looking through the codex, I came across one occasion where there is an alternative reading added into the margin by a hand which is very familiar to me — it is that of John Tiptoft, earl of Worcester.

Those of you who have explored this site will already appreciate the importance of Tiptoft, whose library was perhaps second only to that of Humfrey, duke of Gloucester in the fifteenth century. We now have over thirty books from his collection, dispersed across Europe (his hopes of donating his books to Oxford where thwarted by his own execution). In one sense, it is perfectly understandable that this manuscript should have passed through the earl’s hands: he certainly knew its scribe, owning another volume which was produced by him (it is no. 11 in my listing). But there are two factors which are more surprising. The first of them is its location — there is, as you can see from the listing of the known Tiptoft manuscripts, no other book of his which is in the Vatican. The second relates to the contents of the codex: a few years ago I identified a copy of Juvenal and Persius from his library, written by Sanvito himself, and definitely in England in the late fifteenth century (no. 13 in the listing). Would he have had two rather similar-looking copies of the same texts? It is not impossible but surely unlikely. Perhaps, though, there is another explanation: Tiptoft is not the only annotator on the volume — the two other marginalia could well be by his secretary, who later presented his translation to Synesius to Paul II, John Free. We know that he remained in Italy when Tiptoft returned to their homeland, and it was in Rome that Free died prematurely in 1465. Now, MS. Vat. lat. 3162 did not arrive in the papal library earlier — it shows evidence of Italian ownership in the fifteenth and the sixteenth century — but we can posit a history for it: cast off by Tiptoft, who had a more elegant copy of the works it included, he passed it to Free, who took it to Rome, where, after his death, it circulated, only to end up in the Vatican some decades later.

This, I should say, is not the only discovery — and perhaps not the most important one — of the day. Having been pushed around by one manuscript, knocked about by another, I was then hit between the eyes by yet one more. So, I have been left punch-drunk and gasping for air, at the same time wishing that I could get more of the same and also knowing that I simply will, God and Mammon (aka research grants) both willing, have to return here to give the manuscripts as good as I have got from them.

Cambridge Incunables on-line

Posted in Incunabula by bonaelitterae on 6 June, 2010

The learned dottoressa Nuvoloni, felicitously forenamed Laura considering her gifts for humanist study, has moved on from the success of the volume on Bartolomeo Sanvito, the leading exponent of the italic script that refines textual presentation to a level of sustained elegance. More on the Sanvito volume, which builds on the work of the late A. C. de la Mare, another time. Laura’s new project demonstrates that she is one of those rare scholars who can combine both manuscript and incunable expertise — a combination that remains all too rare. She is now ensconced in Cambridge, working with their incunables, and — the casus belli for this post — is providing with her research an enlightening and wonderfully illustrated blog.

Her work, already finding evidence for the lives of the volumes she handles, also reminds us how incunable studies have developed since Oates’s 1954 catalogue of incunabula in Cambridge libraries. Building on previous generations’ work, some of the most interesting — at least for someone like myself interested in issues of provenance — research has been on the history of individual copies. This approach, in Britain, is best demonstrated in the Bodleian Catalogue of Incunables to which several scholars contributed. It is excellent to know that Cambridge has a similar project, though the description of it suggests that the information will, in the main, be provided on their main on-line catalogue. Let us hope that it is also made available in other ways, and that the project will provide an opportunity for an exhibition to follow in the footsteps of ‘Cambridge Illuminations.’ Forza, Laura!