Un gioco di società del Rinascimento italiano
Man has always asked questions about his own future.
What will become of me? Whither should I turn for an answer that will help me to face my destiny with confidence? It was to answer such questions that Lorenzo Spirito Gualtieri (1426-1496) of Perugia devised and wrote, for the delight of a Perugian family (possibly the Braccio da Montone), a sort of parlour game - the Libro delle Sorti - which included the questions and answers most pertinent to the people of that age: happiness, marriage, the birth of a child, the moment of death, the outcome of a war, success in business. The manuscript, preserved in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, was received with especial favour and in a short time became a great publishing success, with dozens of printed editions both in Italy and abroad.
The Libro delle Sorti, completed by its author in 1482, comprises five sections - wheel of Fortune, kings, astrological symbols, celestial spheres, prophets - each of which was illustrated in the first decade of the 16th century by Umbrian painters in the circle of Pietro Perugino and of the young Raphael. This splendid series of miniatures, enlivened with touches of gold, represents a synthesis of the figurative culture of Central Italy at the time.
• Complete reproduction of Codex It. IX, 87 (=6226) in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice.
• One volume of 128 pages, 17.4 x 24.4 cm.
• Printed with special stochastic screening, with reproduction of gold in leaf and in powder.
• Craftsman-bound with signatures stitched by hand.
• Cover in parchment decorated with gold.
• Edition limited to 980 numbered and certified copies.
• Hardback commentary with dust-jacket.
• Manual of instructions with rules of the game.
• Elegant mahogany slipcase with compartments for the facsimile, the commentary, the instructions and three dice.
The most famous of all codices
Le Très Riches Heures del Duca di Berry
Bibliotheque du Château de Chantilly, Ms. 65
Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry is a true masterpiece of Flemish illumination. This is undoubtedly the most famous of all works of book illustration. This splendid codex, which came into being in the early fifteenth century, is the work of the three leading illuminators of the times, the Limbourg brothers. The codex became the key work of Jean de Berry’s large library of more than 300 splendid volumes.
Embellishments of the first order
On each page we find an abundance of embellishments of all kinds. The 208 folios include more than 3,000 gilded initials and as many as 130 raised silver and gold illuminations, including those of the world-famous Calendar, noteworthy for its impressive rendering of an all-pervading sense of harmony between Man and Nature
Three masters at the service of a bibliophile
Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry represents the high point of the art of illumination during the period of the decline of the Gothic mode and of the dawning of Renaissance art. It also represents the culmination of the artistic careers of Herman, Paul and Jean de Limbourg. The three brothers (from Nijmegen) worked on the codex between 1411 and 1416 (the year in which they died in mysterious circumstances, perhaps due to an epidemic). The codex therefore remained unfinished until about 1485, when, Charles I (Duke of Savoy) commissioned another excellent illuminator, Jean Colombe, to complete the work.
A world of enchantment
Our response to the Limbourg brothers’ illuminations is immediate and intense. We are drawn into this world of enchantment and we marvel at the scenes we find there. Thanks to the Limbourg brothers’ sense of colour and their powers of observation, in stunningly beautiful rural settings, with imposing castles and walled cities, we catch a glimpse of the fleeting pleasures of the life of a French court, and of the burdens of the rural labourer. We see the contrast between the sumptuous garments of the aristocrats and the simple clothing of the peasantry.
Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry is the most lavishly adorned of the works commissioned by the great Jean de Berry (1340-1416), known as the Magnificent. The son, brother and uncle of three Kings of France (John II ‘the Good’, Charles V and Charles VI), Jean de Berry, a man of great culture, was a renowned bibliophile and expert collector of the works of Antiquity, tapestry, coins, jewels, reliquaries, cameos and the portraits of sovereign princes. He was considered the wealthiest of the patrons of the arts of the late Middle Ages. We know of his collecting activities thanks to the detailed inventory drawn up by the librarian, Robinet d’Etampes.
An absolute masterpiece of the Lombard Renaissance
The Torriani Book of Hours
Bibliothèque du Château de Chantilly, Ms. 83
With its extraordinary binding and highly elaborate illumination work, while very small, this precious Book of Hours must be considered an absolute masterpiece.
The splendid binding The Torriani Book of Hours is just one of a small handful of manuscripts of this period which still have their original bindings. It is therefore an exceedingly rare item. The two binding covers, with their gilded silver filigree work, are adorned with cameos representing Saint Catherine and Saint Lucy. Inside the binding covers, we also find 14 enamel inserts representing the Kiss of Judas, the Way to Calvary and twelve busts of saints. The wealth, luxury and refinement of the times is clearly illustrated by the Torriani Book of Hours, alongside other devotional works of this kind produced by the jewellers’ workshops of Milan under the House of Sforza.
The refinement of the embellishments Thirty illuminations adorn this small devotional codex for private use. Twelve are Calendar illustrations. For the eighteen Offices of the Virgin we find six full-page illuminations and twelve pages with illuminated initials featuring architectural and floral motifs, putti, birds and rabbits.
A master’s workshop The illustrations for the Torriani Hours may be ascribed to the Milanese ‘bottega’ (workshop) of the master, Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis. This leading workshop operated in full awareness of the latest developments in the field of painting in Lombardy at the close of the fifteenth century, and, in particular, of the art of Leonardo da Vinci (with whom de Predis worked in 1483, on the Virgin of the Rocks). The embellishments of the borders, with their markedly naturalistic representations of animals, jewels and floral sprays, are the work of the young Matteo da Milano – one of the leading illuminators of Milan – who received commissions from the most important Houses of Renaissance Italy.
Patronage The codex was commissioned by the Milanese Della Torre or Torriani house, an illustrious family of Lombardy which, for some time, ruled over Milan. Further confirmation of the Milanese origin of the work is to be found in the inclusion of certain features such as local saints, in the Calendar, and the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Milan’s old cathedral, surmounted by a statue of Saint Ambrose (the Patron Saint of Milan). However, the identity of the lady for whom the codex was made, perhaps a lady of the court of Ludovico Sforza, is unknown.
The Missal of the Sistine Chapel
The Farnese Lectionary
New York Public Library, Ms. MA 91 (Towneley Lectionary)
The majestic liturgical book known as the Lezionario Farnese, produced in Rome shortly after the mid-sixteenth century for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, represents a high point for the art of illumination. Given its size – the work is of monumental proportions – and the wealth of embellishments, we may consider the Lectionary a codex of exceptional merit. Splendid embellishments By commissioning this truly sumptuous work, Alessandro Farnese brought into being a codex which, for hundreds of years, served as one of the Missals used by the Popes and princes of the Church during the solemnities held at the Sistine Chapel. In its splendid full-page illuminations and wonderful gilded frames – adorned with putti, masks and floral motifs – we note the influences of the grand art of the Renaissance and, in particular, the work of Michelangelo and Raphael. A widely acclaimed illuminator With its impressive embellishments, the Lezionario Farnese represents one of the masterpieces of Giulio Clovio (1498-1578), the most widely acclaimed illuminator of the late sixteenth century. Clovio was praised by the Florentine historian, Giorgio Vasari, in the second edition of his Lives of the Artists, as the “Michelangelo in little”. Vasari cites the Farnese Book of Hours and the Lectionary as the most important of the works of Clovio, who, after leaving his native Croatia in 1516, achieved great renown as an illuminator. The Neo-Gothic binding The original binding went missing with the arrival of Napoleon’s troops. The codex was then re-bound in 1809-1810 in a red velvet Neo-Gothic cover of considerable beauty and refinement (the work of the London binders, Benjamin II and James Smith). We may note the wrought and gilded silver ferrules and clasps and, on the front cover, the polychrome porcelain coats of arms of the Towneley family, the last owners of this work. Patronage The Lectionary was a commission from Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589), the grandson of Pope Paul III Farnese (who ordained Alessandro as cardinal at the age of fourteen). In the early 1540’s, Clovio entered the service of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, considered by historians the most important patron and connoisseur of the arts of mid-sixteenth century Rome. Clovio served the cardinal for the rest of his life, and bequeathed his fine collection of codices and artworks to his patron.
A masterwork in gold and purple
The Durazzo Book of Hours
Genova, Biblioteca Civica Berio, m.r. C.f. Arm. I
The Libro d'Ore Durazzo, which takes its name from its last owner, is a small masterpiece by the painter and illuminator, Francesco Marmitta. This remarkable work is in two ways quite different from all other devotional codices for private use. One is the use of purple parchment. The other is chrysography, or writing in letters of gold – the work of the master calligrapher, Pietro Antonio Sallando, who taught at the University of Bologna.
The illumination work of a goldsmith and jeweller
The illumination work is by the painter from Parma, Francesco Marmitta (circa 1462/1466-1505) – also a renowned jeweller and inlayer, and the creator of other splendid works such as the stunning Missal of Domenico della Rovere, belonging to the museum of the municipality of Turin (Museo Civico di Torino). The leafs of these masterpieces reflect the artist’s sensitivity and delicacy, his marked interest in landscapes, and his taste for jewellery, medals and cameos, illustrated with extraordinary skill.
Embellishment of the highest order
Marmitta’s references to the revived classic tradition indicate a meditative approach. This aspect comes to the fore in his use of purple and of gold lettering, and is also underscored by his use of motifs such as trophies, medallions, cameos and bucrania. However, as a painter, the approach adopted for the Calendar and Offices of the Virgin reveals his awareness of the latest tendencies reflected in the culture of the figurative arts in Bologna, and a special interest in the work of Amico Aspertini.
The refinement of the binding
The work’s lavishly elegant binding dates back to the time of the codex itself, and the love of embellishments is as evident here as in the illuminations. The binding features wrought and embossed silver, in part gilded, on crimson velvet. It also features a splendid profusion of classical motifs (acanthus and palmette motifs, ears of wheat, grapes, vases, masks, scarabs and bucrania). The silver clasps are adorned with two small rubies.
A number of stylistic clues seem to indicate that the Libro d’Ore Durazzo was commissioned by a patron from Parma. We may also note Parmigianino’s well-known Portrait of a Collector (London, National Gallery), in which the collector holds in his hand precisely this codex. It is believed that the codex accompanied Francesco Marmitta’s second son, Jacopo, to Portugal. However, in the nineteenth century it was in Genoa. Firstly, it was in the hands of the merchant, Antonio Bacigalupo, who inherited it from his father, Francesco, and then in the hands of the Marquis Marcello Luigi Durazzo – a collector, who, having purchased it from Bacigalupo’s widow, then bequeathed it to the Biblioteca Berio.
Una pinacoteca in miniatura
The Book of Hours of Perugino
Londra, British Library, Ms. Yates Thompson 29
This extremely refined masterwork of the Italian Renaissance (1503) was commissioned by Perugino, who belonged to a leading family of Bologna. Also Bolognese was the calligrapher, Pietro Antonio Sallando (a grammarian at the city’s university and a renowned calligraphy master).
A treasury of masterpieces
Perugino’s intention was to produce a small anthology of the finest illuminations in central and northern Italy. To this end he called upon a number of the leading artists of this period, each of whom was to produce a full-page illumination. Thus, we find works by Amico Aspertini (Adoration of the Shepherds), Perugino (San Sebastiano), Lorenzo Costa (David with lyre), Francesco Francia (San Gerolamo), and, in all likelihood, Matteo da Milano (Annunciation).
Notable, too, are the embellishments framing the illustrations, produced with an abundance of floral motifs and references to the classic tradition. Indeed, a number of pages include fragile, fantastic, grotesque figures inspired by the decor of the ‘Grotte’ (caves) of the Esquiline Hill in Rome (the site of the buried remains of Nero’s Domus Aurea, or Golden House, which, when uncovered in 1480, immediately attracted the attention of the artists of that period).
The elaborate binding
The morocco binding, with its finely executed floral motifs on polychrome silk satin, is quite remarkable. The covers are adorned with two bezels or settings for semi-precious stones and two centrally positioned roundels for the figures of the Annunciation.
The work’s original owner (as indicated by the coat of arms) was Perugino, who was elected a senator in Bologna following the assassination of his father, Virgilio, in 1523. When the codex was produced, Perugino was still rather young and it may be that this Libro d’Ore had been commissioned by Peruginos’s father for his son’s use. The codex passed from the house of Perugino into the hands of the Albani family of Urbino, where, according to record, it was to be found in the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, the work reached Britain, where it was purchased by Henry Yates Thompson in 1897. It has been at the British Library since 1941.
The pride of a great king
The Divine Comedy of Alfonso of Aragon
Londra, British Library, Ms. Yates Thompson 36
This splendid Divina Commedia manuscript includes more than 100 illumination works, with illuminated initials opening each part. The calligraphy and illumination work are Tuscan, dating back to approximately the mid-fifteenth century. The work was commissioned by a great patron –the King of Naples, Alfonso of Aragon, known as "il Magnanimo". An important quality of this manuscript consists in its being one of the few that fully illustrate all three parts of the Divine Comedy.
Two master illuminators
The marvellous illumination work is by two artists, both from Siena – Lorenzo di Pietro, known as il Vecchietta (responsible for all the initials and the Inferno and Purgatory scenes, produced between 1442 and 1450), and Giovanni di Paolo, who, in his representation of Paradise, conveys a sense of the fantastic and unreal, reflecting his own dreamily pensive spiritual being.
In the 115 illuminated scenes at the foot of the pages we see that the two artists’ approaches are markedly different. While il Vecchietta’s is a world of drama and sudden apparitions of light, Giovanni di Paolo’s is one of clear blue skies and stunningly beautiful landscapes, inspired by the Tuscan countryside. We also note the unifying presence of the two figures of Dante and Beatrice in most of the latter’s illuminations.
The brightness of gold
Finely executed work in gold frames accompanies these extraordinarily evocative illuminations. This is most evident in the Paradise scenes, in which the frames seem to shed extra light upon the episodes recounted. Also noteworthy is the elegance of the script, arranged in a single column and accompanied by initials. This work can be easily read, and an appreciation of the poem itself enhances our enjoyment of the images.
As an enlightened patron of the arts and humanist of considerable sensitivity – and in keeping with his desire to have his kingdom assert itself as one of the major States of Italy – Alfonso of Aragon transformed Naples into a lively venue for the arts and culture in general. As a refined bibliophile, who treasured manuscripts, he decided, following his extensive collecting activities in Spain, to enrich his library in Naples with Italian, Latin and Greek works. To this end, he procured valuable illuminated codices with aid of an erudite scholar, Guiniforte Bargigi.
A masterpiece of the art of illumination in Florence
The Book of Hours of Lorenzo de' Medici
Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Ms. Ashburnam 1874
This codex is one of the five “libriccini delli offitii, di donna” (small books of the offices, for the use of ladies) of the inventory drawn up in 1492 following the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici, who commissioned them for the weddings of his daughters.
The description, “for the use of ladies”, seems already to indicate that the works are small and also precious, like a jewel – each a work to be consigned to the loving care of a lady of the Renaissance.
With its small 10 x 15 cm format, this Ashburnham 1874 codex is hardly larger than a postcard. Before even considering the content, one is struck by its extraordinary violet velvet binding, with gilded silver filigree work bosses and ferrules. The covers also feature a large lapis lazuli and four rose quartzes.
In all its parts, this codex is most surely a work of the highest order. This is quite evident in its binding, the harmonious script and the marvellously refined illumination work, ascribed to the engraver, illuminator, cartographer and painter, Francesco Rosselli, who (like Francesco di Antonio del Chierico) was a major exponent of the Florentine school. Each of the 233 leafs of the manuscript includes at least one adornment, an initial or frieze, included with such artistry, awareness of the conventions, and harmony that it cannot fail to delight the eye of even the most discerning and exacting bibliophile.
Celebrating the greatness of a Prince
The Bible of Federico da Montefeltro
Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Mss. Urb. Lat. 1 e Urb. Lat. 2
The Bible of Federico da Montefeltro may be considered a great celebration of the art of illumination. This work embodies the peak of development in the fifteenth century of the culture of the figurative arts in Italy and Europe.
A work of monumental proportions
This Bible was produced at a time when the practice of printing with movable types was spreading fast. It differs from the usual codex in its size and the number of illuminated leafs (thirty-five of which are of a truly painterly character).
The script of this Bible – the most beautiful codex of Federico da Montefeltro’s library – is by Ugo Comminelli da Mézières. The illumination work, executed in Florence in just two years (1477-1478), is by Francesco di Antonio del Chierico, an illuminator who had reached the peak of fame at that time, and who was generously ‘loaned’ to the Duke of Urbino by Lorenzo de’ Medici. Alongside these illuminations by Francesco, we find the work of other historically renowned illuminators such as Attavante degli Attavanti, Francesco Rosselli and, in all likelihood, Davide Ghirlandaio (the brother of the more well-known Domenico Ghirlandaio).
The influences of Renaissance masters
In these Bible works we find many ‘echoes’ of the immense heritage of the figurative arts of fifteenth century Florence, and notably also of the major artists of the Tuscan Renaissance.
The Duke of Urbino, Federico da Montefeltro, transformed the capital of his small duchy into one of the most imposing cultural centres of the Italian Renaissance. He called to his court architects and artists such as Luciano Laurana, Melozzo da Forlì, Giusto di Gand and Piero della Francesca. He also founded one of the largest libraries of the times, where dozens of scribes transcribed books which were then sent to the Florentine workshop of Vespasiano da Bisticci to be embellished by master illuminators.
A masterpiece of the art of illumination in Lombardy
The Visconti Book of Hours
Firenze, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Mss. BR 397 e LF 22
Known as the "Offiziolo Visconti"(or Libro d'Ore Visconti) this two-volume illuminated codex is a particularly lavish work. We owe the illuminations, which date back to separate periods, to two artists who differ greatly the one from the other. With the aid of colleagues, Giovannino de’ Grassi, working for Gian Galeazzo Visconti, is responsible for the opening pages. On Gian Galeazzo's death in 1402, the work came to a halt, and was taken up again by Belbello da Pavia when Gian Galeazzo's son, Filippo Maria, ascended to the duchy in 1412.
Toward the end of his life, Gian Galeazzo, by commissioning a truly unique series of splendid illustrated volumes dedicated to flora, fauna, medicine and the seasons of the year, raised the two cities of Pavia and Milan to the rank of major European centres for the production of illuminated codices.
Frate Amadeo, who was responsible for the text of the book of prayers, signed his work, but this was not the practice among illuminators at that time. Indeed, it is only by examining external evidence that we may ascribe to the imaginative powers of Giovannino de’ Grassi the illustrations with which the manuscript opens. The other great illuminator for the second part of this Book of Hours is Belbello da Pavia.
Many of the illuminations of the Book of Hours belong to the early days of Belbello's development as an artist. He progressed from his compact, highly detailed style, accompanied by a certain preciosity, toward an approach which evidences an easing of tensions and the more audacious approach to colour we note in the Messale di Mantova (Missal of Mantua).
The medical encyclopaedia of the Emperor Wenceslas
Roma, Biblioteca Casanatense, Ms.459
Of considerable charm and interest, this manuscript, known as the Tacuinum Sanitatis (housed at the Biblioteca Casanatense, Rome) is an encyclopaedia of natural history. It includes descriptions of plants, minerals and animals, with particular reference to their medicinal and therapeutic properties. This codex, which can be dated back to the close of the fourteenth century, was produced at the court of Gian Galeazzo Visconti as a gift for Wenceslas IV, the King of Bohemia and Germany. The sections of the 295-leaf manuscript are ordered alphabetically. The detailed illustrations of plants (more than 500) eloquently attest to the considerable advances that had been made in the field of botany in Italy by the close of the Middle Ages. Alongside the botanical illustrations we also find more than 80 illustrations of animals from which curative substances may be extracted, and more than 30 illustrations of substances of mineral origin. We also find many scenes and figures of people taken from day-to-day life situations. Many of the initials include half-length portraits of physicians and scholars.
The finest volume of illumination work in the world
The Bible of Borso d'Este
Modena, Biblioteca Estense Universitaria, Mss. Lat. 422 e Lat.423
Dating back to 1455-1461, this Bible (produced for the Duke of Ferrara, Borso d’Este) is the most beautiful of all Renaissance codices. In this work, for the first time, the art of book illustration responds to the new trends of the Renaissance and its artistic language, infusing the fantasies and fineries of the late Gothic period with a new spirit of rationality.
A number of the major artists of the times contributed to this Bible, thus producing a work that would, for hundreds of years to come, celebrate the splendour of the Este court and the munificence of its Duke.
The illuminators, including the renowned Taddeo Crivelli and Franco dei Russi, embellished the recto and verso of each leaf. We note here an awareness of the new (Tuscan) rules concerning perspective, and considerable attention to natural detail (a typically Flemish trait). The friezes present many marvellous mythological, animal and heraldic decorative motifs.
We may consider the Bibbia di Borso d’Este – unrivalled by contemporary works and of truly astounding worth – a veritable gallery of the art of the Renaissance.