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PETRARCH (1304-1374), Il Canzoniere and I Trionfi; LEONARDO BRUNI (1369-1444), Vita di Petrarca; PETRARCH, Nota de Laura, in Italian, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM

PETRARCH (1304-1374), Il Canzoniere and I Trionfi; LEONARDO BRUNI (1369-1444), Vita di Petrarca; PETRARCH, Nota de Laura, in Italian, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM

[Pavia or Milan, c.1470]
207 x 142mm. 198ff:1-138, 14-1510, 168, 176, 18-208, 219, 227(of 8, lacks 5), 23-246, 258, textually COMPLETE, but the lacking leaf perhaps with a misplaced or incomplete miniature, vertical catchwords on inner ruling of most final folios, 29 lines in brown ink in a round humanistic bookhand between 30 horizontals and a pair and a single vertical, justification:147 x 70mm, rubrics in pink, not supplied to Trionfi, two-line initials of burnished gold against grounds alternately red or blue with white decoration with marginal sprays of three golden flowerheads with curling penwork tendrils, penwork not supplied after f.35, opening folio with FULL-PAGE BORDER WITH FOLIAGE AGAINST A GROUND OF BURNISHED GOLD inhabited by putti, birds and animals, the upper border with a MINIATURE SHOWING LAURA CROWNING PETRARCH WITH A LAUREL WREATH, the lower border with a young woman firing an arrow into the heart of a young man and a roundel with the arms of the Visconti, the side border with a roundel with Apollo pursuing Daphne, FOUR MINIATURES OF THE TRIUMPHS, three full-page and one part-page (dampstaining affecting margins, especially the final ten leaves but evident at centre of outer edge throughout, and the cause of pigment loss from the lower inner corner of the border on f.1, from the lower edge of f.150v and the outer cusp of f.166, small vellum losses from margin on two leaves). Panelled brown leather by Bedford, ruled and stamped in blind (very slight rubbing at extremities).


The opening folio has a shield with the Visconti coat of arms encircled by the name IVLLIVS VICECOMES. Although they were not supplied by the illuminator of the border, these arms and the family name are likely to have been those of the first owner. Another copy of the Canzoniere and Trionfi with an opening leaf illuminated by the same artist and with a similar miniature (Milan, Biblioteca Trivulziana, Cod. 903: see G. Petrella, Il fondo Petrarchesco della Biblioteca Trivulziana: manoscritti ed edizioni a stampa (sec.xiv-xx), 2006, pp.33-38) has a roundel of exactly the same format where the Visconti arms are encircled with 'Franciscus Vicecomes'. Of the family members of this name the most likely to have been the original owner is the son of Giambattista Visconti, senator to the duke of Milan, and his wife Regola Galeazzi. Francesco was himself named Consiglio segreto in 1466 and was a correspondent of the humanist Pier Candido Decembrio, who dedicated two works to him: C. Santoro, I codici medioevali della Biblioteca Trivulziana, 1965, p.229. In the present manuscript, whereas the arms and family name are original, it is clear that the Ivllivs is a later modification. It seems probable that it was originally illuminated for one of Francesco's close relatives, he had a brother Guido (Conte Pompeo Litta, Famiglie celebri italiane, Visconti di Milano, tav.XVI) or another Visconti at the ducal court from whom it passed by descent to a Giulio. One such was Giampetro, ducal counsellor in 1477 and ancestor of the Giulio who graduated from Pavia university in 1604 (Litta, Visconti di Milano, tav.XIII). The Visconti were likely to have regarded themselves as having a particularly close association with Petrarch for the poet was for many years the friend and protégé of successive Visconti lords of Milan.
Sir Henry Hope Edwardes, Bart, and by descent to the present owner.


Alphabetical index of first lines of Il Canzoniere ff.1-7v; Petrarch Il Canzoniere ff.9-150v: nos 1, 3, 2, 4-79, 81-82, 80, 83-92, 94-96, 93, 97-120, 122, 'Donna mi viene, 123-242, 121, 243-339, 342, 340, 351-54, 350, 355, 359, 341, 343, 356, 344-49, 357-58, 360-66; Petrarch I Trionfi ff.151-190: Triumph of Love I f.151, II f.153v, III f.157, IV f.160, Triumph of Chastity f.163, Triumph of Death Ia f.166v, I f.166v, II f.170v, Triumph of Fame I, early redaction f.174, I f.176v, II f.179, III f.182, Triumph of Time f.184, Triumph of Eternity f.188; Leonardo Bruni, Vita Petrarce, in Italian ff.191-197; Petrarch, Nota de Laura in Latin ff.197-197v, and Italian f.197v-198.

Among the most celebrated and influential works in western literature Petrarch's poetry in Italian, the Canzoniere and the Trionfi, are here combined with the brief biography by Bruni that helped to spread the poet's fame and reputation, and Petrarch's own note recording his first sighting of Laura in 1327 and how he heard of her death in 1348.

Referred to by Petrarch himself as Rerum vulgarium fragmenta, the collection of 366 poems that has been known since the Renaissance as the Canzoniere (Book of Songs) was composed, selected and reordered over a period of four decades. Immortalising the poet's love for the unattainable Laura, this cycle established the sonnet form and became the basis for the development of lyric poetry throughout renaissance Europe. Petrarch could not have imagined the extent of the audience to which his opening words -- 'Voi chascoltate in rime sparse il suono' -- would be addressed. Nor the legacy that his 'scattered rhymes' would leave.

In later arrangements of the collection, including the final version known from the partly autograph manuscript that Petrarch was modifying until the year of his death (Vatican City, BAV, Vat.Lat.3195), the verses were divided into two parts, those written during Laura's lifetime, 'in vita', and those after her death, 'in morte', the second part beginning with verse 264. This is the arrangement followed in the present manuscript, although the large illuminated initial allowed for on f.108v and intended to mark the opening of the second section was never supplied. The arrangement of the 'in vita' poems conforms to the ordering known as the 'forma malatesta' from the manuscript sent by Petrarch to Pandolfo Malatesta in 1373 (E.H. Wilkins, The Making of the Canzoniere and other Petrarchan Studies, 1951).

The Trionfi, once again written over an extended period that continued until the poet's death, had enormous popularity in the 15th century. In the form of a vision where allegorical figures, accompanied by appropriate characters from history, mythology and the Bible, succeed one another from the initial triumph of Love over the human heart until the final triumph of Eternity over Time. Laura, and Petrarch's love for her, are once more central themes and it is through her that the poet has hopes of attaining his ultimate salvation and thus the chance of seeing her again. The present manuscript reflects the extended evolution of the text and contains elements from different stages of Petrarch's composition, for example the Triumph of Fame opens on f.174 with 'Nel cor pien damarissima dolceza', the chapter that Petrarch discarded in favour of that opening 'Da poi che Morte triumpho del volto', which follows it on f.176v. Elsewhere, either because of scribal error or lacunae in the manuscript exemplum there are omissions that were subsequently supplied in the margins in a small 15th-century cursive hand. One of these omissions seems certainly an error: on f.170v instead of the next chapter of the Triumph of Death the scribe started to copy the opening of the Triumph of Fame 'Nel poi che Morte triumpho...', realised his slip after 7 lines, left the remaining 3 lines on that page blank and continued on f.171 11 lines into the third chapter of Death. He no doubt intended, but forgot, to come back and replace the misplaced lines.

The Note de Laura, here provided in Italian as well as Latin, is for many the most convincing refutation of the suggestion that Laura existed only as a literary conceit. These touching lines ostensibly recall Petrarch's first sighting of his beloved -- 'Laurea, illustrious through her own virtues and long famed through my verses' -- in St Clare in Avignon on 6 April 1327, her death on the same day in 1348, and the circumstances in which he learned the sad news. These lines are one of the autograph personal records that he added to one of his most valued manuscripts, the Virgil with the Commentary of Servius (Milan, Bibl. Ambrosiana, A 49 inf.). He placed the note regarding Laura to precede the illuminated frontispiece by Simone Martini that he had had added to the book. We learn from the Canzoniere that Simone had painted a portrait of Laura.


Rich in colour, content and incident the borders and miniatures of this manuscript are the work of an illuminator named after the Book of Hours made for a member of the Birago family of Milan (c.1460-70, now in the Comites Latentes Collection, Geneva, Bibl. Publique et Universitaire: see J.J.G. Alexander and A. de la Mare, The Italian Manuscripts in the Library of Major J.R. Abbey, 1969, pp.147-150). The Birago Master is known for his activity in Pavia and Milan in the third quarter of the 15th century where his principal commissions were for members of the princely courts of northern Italy; they include the presentation copy for Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza of Girolamo Mangiarias Opusculum de impedimentis matrimonii of 1466 (Paris, BnF, Ms. lat. 4586) and the Hours of Cecilia Gonzaga (Morgan Library, Ms M.454) of c.1470.

The Birago and Gonzaga Hours exemplify the opulence, wealth of detail and control of the Master's finest work, features that account for his popularity as a court artist. The decoration of Petrarch's poetry in the present manuscript is executed with equal finesse and richness and has the added appeal of dealing with secular subject matter, which the Master presents with freshness and invention. The careful and individual attention given to the illustration of Petrarch's poems goes beyond the exquisite technique. By the date of this manuscript a cycle of Triumph illustrations had evolved that had a diffusion much wider than in copies of the poem: the Triumphs were represented in engravings, tapestry, ivories, stained glass, paintings and metalwork. The iconography of these scenes, where each showed a triumphal procession, was to some degree independent from Petrarch's words. While broadly conforming to this pattern, the miniatures of the present manuscript cannot be directly related to any other surviving sequence and show individuality in arrangement and inclusion: for example in Love's retinue including a naked Hercules and having Samson and Delilah alongside Aristotle and Phyllis as examples of great men brought low by love.

There is an advised reflection of the text of the Canzoniere in the decoration of the opening page beyond the depiction of the emblems of love and lovers. Petrarchs puns on 'lauro' -- referring to both the mythological tree and the victor or poet's crown were one way that he made play with Laura's name. And this is taken up in the illustrations of the opening page both in the scene where his beloved places the laurel wreath upon his head, an event imagined in Canzoniere 119, and in the roundel that shows the metamorphosis of Daphne into a laurel tree to escape Apollo's pursuit, for Petrarch identified his own aspiration and loss with that of Apollo. One particularly thoughtful detail of the portrayal of Laura is that knowing her to be a historical figure, rather than show her in contemporary dress, the illuminator has clothed her in the fashions of the first decade of the 15th century. It is this combination of richness of finish with wealth of thoughtful detail that makes this such an exceptional and delightful work.

The subjects of the illumination are as follows:

f.1 A miniature with Laura crowning Petrarch with the laurel wreath in an open loggia with a cityscape ?Avignon, in the background, and a roundel with Apollo and Daphne, in a full-page border inhabited by putti, animals, and birds and with a lover whose breast is pierced by an arrow shot by a young lady, a large foliate initial with an urn and two doves.
f.150v The Triumph of Love, with a cart carrying blind cupid drawn by four white horses, the accompanying procession including King David and Hercules on the left and with Caesar among the classical figures on the right; in the foreground Samson and Delilah and Phyllis and Aristotle. f.167 The Triumph of Death, with a cart carrying a skeletal figure holding a scythe drawn by two oxen who overrun two young men, a cardinal, a king, a pope and an emperor, within a circular border with flowers.
f.184v The Triumph of Time, with a cart carrying a winged man bearing an astrolabe drawn by two stags flanked by prophets and elders, with a quadrilobe frame with foliate terminals.
f.187v The Triumph of Eternity (Divinity), with God the Father seated on a green globe and in a mandorla edged with seraphim, flanked by Saints led by Peter and Paul, within a wreath tied by four winged putti against a golden ground.

This manuscript was discussed in the following:
N. Mann, Petrarch Manuscripts in the British Isles; Censimento dei codici Petrarcheschi 6, 1975
J.B. Trapp, Petrarch's Laura: The Portraiture of an Imaginary Beloved, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, LXIV (2001), pp.73-4.
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