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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.

Photographic atlas

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