PSEUDO-BONAVENTURA: Meditationi de la vita de iesu cristo, in Italian, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
118 x 85mm. 197 leaves: 1-138, 1412, 157(of 8, lacking i), 16-208, 217(of 8, lacking iv but for a large stub), 228, 238, 246, 255(of 6, final blank cancelled), modern foliation jumps 139, catchwords in lower margin of final versos follow on, 19 lines in brown ink in a small gothic bookhand between two verticals and twenty horizontals ruled in plummet, justification: 73 x 55mm, rubrics in red, paraphs in red or blue, text capitals touched red, two-line initials of red or blue with flourishing of the other colour, HISTORIATED INITIAL AND BORDER on three-sides (illumination rubbed, some letters faint on opening page, waterstaining to first 46 leaves, not generally affecting legibility). Tan panelled sheep c.1900 by Charles E. Lauriat, Boston (extremities scuffed, spine split at head of upper joint and bottom half of lower joint, small dark stain on upper cover).
Charles E. Lauriat Co Boston: the stamp of this bookseller at the foot of the first endleaf.
From Margaret Cushing Osgood of Boston, writer and scholar, to her son-in-law Robert Erskine Childers (1870-1922), the Irish nationalist and author of The Riddle of the Sands, and by descent to the present owner.
Meditationi de la vita di ihesu cristo ff.1-198v lacking two leaves, one between ff.116/f.117 and one between ff.167/168.
This is an Italian version of one of the most influential of all medieval devotional texts, the Meditationes vitae Christi, written in a very elegant Toscano vulgare. Although long attributed to St Bonaventura, it is now recognised as being the work of another Italian Franciscan -- although none of the suggested identifications has been widely accepted -- and is generally thought to have been composed in the second half of the thirteenth century.
Written as a spiritual aid to a Clarissan sister the text soon achieved much wider currency and was translated into several vernaculars: for a survey of the history and influence of the text see the edition of the Gaelic version, Smaointe Beatha Chríost, ed. Cainneach Ó Maonaigh, 1944, where the Meditationes is summarised as, 'a life of Christ, a biography of the Blessed Virgin, the fifth gospel, the last of the apocrypha, one of the masterpieces of Franciscan literature, a summary of medieval spirituality, a religious handbook of contemplation, a manual of christian iconography, one of the chief sources of the mystery plays' (p.325ff.) It lay behind other devotional works, for example Nicholas Love's Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ, but its literary influence was much more widely felt and has been traced from Dante to Donne.
The full Latin version -- believed now to have been its original form -- consists of three sections: the first and the third mainly narrative accounts covering Christ's life from Incarnation to Ascension, while the second section was a devotional treatise on the active and contemplative life drawn almost entirely from the sermons of St Bernard. There are two classes of shorter version, one omitting the devotional section and the public ministry of Christ, and the other even shorter including only the Passion. It was generally the case that the translations were of the shorter versions. The present manuscript belongs to the second type, and goes from the Baptism of Christ and Temptation in the desert to his entry into Jerusalem. Its contents correspond to Chapters 1-XVII and LXVII-LXXXXIV of the long Italian translation: Cento meditazioni di S. Bonaventura sulla vita di Gesú Cristo, B. Sorio, I, 1847 pp.103-226 (ff.1-89) and II, pp.106-257 (ff.89v-198v). 40 manuscript copies of this type have been identified, see A. Vaccari, 'Le "Meditazioni della vita di Cristo" in volgare', Scritti di erudizione e i filologia, I, 1952.
One aspect of the spiritual exercise recommended in the Meditationes was that the reader, the nun, should visualise and respond to the events of Christ's life as they were recounted. To this end the author provided human incident and affective detail not available in the Gospels. Stressing the humanity of Christ, he evoked the human emotions and human relationships underlying the Biblical narrative. The same concerns are evident in the art of Giotto, who peopled his narrative cycle in the Scrovegni Chapel with expressive figures imbued with feeling.
The once refined initial shows a standing figure of Christ blessing. The style of initial and border is consistent with an origin in Tuscany c.1330, making this an early copy of one of the fundamental texts of medieval devotion, whether expressed through word or image.