BUONDELMONTI, Cristoforo (Florence c. 1385-not before 1430 probably Greece). Liber Insularum Archipelagi. ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM, in Latin. [Italy, perhaps Florence, c. 1450].
BUONDELMONTI, Cristoforo (Florence c. 1385-not before 1430 probably Greece). Liber Insularum Archipelagi. ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM, in Latin. [Italy, perhaps Florence, c. 1450].

BUONDELMONTI, Cristoforo (Florence c. 1385-not before 1430 probably Greece). Liber Insularum Archipelagi. ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM, in Latin. [Italy, perhaps Florence, c. 1450].

254 x 164mm. 66 leaves, COMPLETE, collation: a-f10 g10 (5-10 blank, 5 inserted before a1, 6 back pastedown, 7-10 cancelled), most signatures preserved, vertical catchwords, ruled to accommodate 27 lines (148 x 82mm), written in dark-brown ink in a fine upright humanistic bookhand, 5-line title-heading in red and seven short rubrics at the end. Finely drawn and illuminated floral border, incorporating the original owner's armorial device and initials, on a white-dotted blue ground and a double burnished gold frame surrounding the first page of text and illuminated initial C on a green ground. SEVENTY-NINE COLORED PEN-AND-INK AND WASH DRAWINGS OF MAPS, PLANS AND VIEWS OF THE AEGEAN, CYCLADIC AND IONIAN ISLANDS AND PORTS, including seven full-page. (A few tiny wormholes at beginning and end, removal of ownership stamp leaving a brown smudge in bottom margin of a1r, otherwise IN REMARKABLY CLEAN AND FRESH CONDITION.)

BINDING: contemporary blind-tooled brown calf or goatskin over beech boards, probably Florentine, the covers decorated to identical designs, outer border formed by the repetition of a scroll tool, inner border of small crosses, saltire of triple fillets in center compartment, small 8-petalled flower tool scattered in other compartments, brass clasps and catches (straps renewed, vellum title-label removed from front cover, rebacked in the early 19th century, corners restored, minor worming).

PROVENANCE: the original owner's initials IA AL in the lower border flank the arms azure a wing or pierced by an arrow or and argent, which no doubt allude to his name, perhaps Jacopo Ala or a variant of it; his identity, however, has remained elusive -- Sir Thomas Phillipps, MS. 2634, bought of Payne and Foss May 1827, item 519 in the supplement to their Catalogue of Books in Foreign Languages -- William H. Robinson Ltd. of Pall Mall (bought in 1945 as part of the Bibliotheca Phillippica by private treaty) -- Boies Penrose, then of Devon, Pennsylvania, who bought it from the Robinson brothers in 1947 -- Sold to John Fleming in the mid-1970s, from whom it was acquired by the present owner.

TEXT. The most important Renaissance illustrated travel book of the Eastern Mediterranean, treating in considerable detail the geography and history of the Greek Archipelago. The author, a member of a distinguished Florentine family, who was encouraged in his studies of Greek antiquity and literature by the maecenas, humanist and book collector, Niccolò Niccoli, spent eight years in Rhodes and travelling around the Greek islands from 1414 onwards, acquiring Greek manuscripts for Niccoli, to whom he dedicated his first work, a description of Crete. Between 1420 and 1422 he produced several redactions of his greatest work, Liber Insularum Archipelagi, dedicating them from Rhodes to his Roman patron, Cardinal Giordano Orsini (d. 1439). The progenitor of the genre of island books, it circulated in a considerable number of manuscripts in the 15th and 16th century, but the text was not fully published until 1824 by G.R.L. de Sinner in Leipzig and Berlin. It was also translated from the original Latin into Greek, Italian and English, and clearly influenced Bartolommeo dalli Sonetti's Isolario, published in Venice c. 1485 (IGI 1278; see following lot), Benedetto Bordoni's Isolario, published in Venice (1528), and Piri Re'is's treatise on navigation in the Ottoman Mediterranean, composed in 1521-26, Kitab-I bahriye. More than 65 manuscripts are presently recorded, but no more than four or five in private hands, including a paper copy of 1473 (sold to Kraus in 1979), another paper manuscript of c. 1500 (sold at Sotheby's in 1996), a 16th-century French vellum manuscript (sold in 2004) and another, much later Phillipps manuscript (sold at Sotheby's in 1973). The Phillipps-Penrose vellum manuscript contains the final 1422 redaction, as published by Sinner. Dating from the mid-15th century, it is by far THE EARLIEST AND FINEST MANUSCRIPT of this widely distributed work to come on the market in a very long time. Although exhibited twice (at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore 1952 and at the Field Museum in Chicago 2007/2008), it appears to be mostly omitted from the extensive literature on Buondelmonti. His autograph manuscripts have apparently not survived, even though Buondelmonti was himself an accomplished scribe and artist, who completed at Rhodes in 1421 a vellum manuscript of another famous work to integrate text and illusrtation very closely, Pseudo-Joachim de Fiore's Vaticinia Pontificum (sold in our London rooms 15 November 2006, lot 14).

ILLUSTRATION. The most striking feature of Buondelmonti's 'Book of Islands' is its close integration of text and illustration; the scribe and artist of the Phillipps-Penrose-Nebenzahl codex are likely to be identical, just as Buondelmonti himself would have been responsible for both text and illustration in the dedication manuscripts. The full complement of 79 maps, plans and bird's-eye views represent to a large extent the author's own explorations and show the geography of ports, towns, monuments and ruins on the Greek islands before the fall of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, to the Turks in 1453. They are drawn in ink and colored in brown, grey, blue and pink wash amidst green seas. Most occupy half or one third of a page and extend well into the margins, some are larger (including seven full-page). Captions in the same hand as the text identify buildings, bridges, mountains, ports, geographical orientation, etc. The subjects are as follows:

a3v Corfu, full-page; a4r Paxos; a5r Lefkada, showing the bridge to the mainland; a6r Ithaca; a7r Cephalonia; a8r Zakynthos; a9v the Strofades; a10r South-west extremity of the Peloponnese, showing the town of Methoni and three small islands, including Sapienza; b1r Cythera; b2r Anticythera, showing the ruins; b4v Crete, full-page; b6r Karpathos; b8r Rhodes, almost full-page; b8v Symi, with ancient ruins; b9r Khalki; b9v Tilos [Piscopie]; b10v Nisyros; c1r Astipalaia; c2r Santorini and Therasia; c2v Sikinos, with its ruins; c3r Folegandros, showing ruins; c3v more ruins on Folegandros; c4v Milos; c5r Sifnos; c6r Serifos; c6v Kythnos, showing thermal springs; c7v Kea; c9r Andros; c9v Kaloyeros volcano on Andros; c10r Tinos; c10v Mykonos; d2v Delos; d3r Syros [Suda]; d4r Paros; d4v Antiparos, then uninhabited; d4v Mount Panaia; d6r Naxos; d6v North and South Podia; d6v Iraklia and Karos; d7r Ios [Nios]; d7v Anafi, showing ancient ruins at the east end of the island; d8r Amorgos [Buport]; d8v Kinasos [Chimera] and Levinthos [Levata]; d9r Monastic Rock, showing the abbey church and a crane hoisting the monks' boat up the cliff, out of the reach of pirates; e1r Cos, full-page; e2r Kalimnos; e2r Leros [Hero]; e2v Patmos, showing the monastery of St. John and the cave of the Apocalypse; e3r Lipsi [Dipsi]; e3r Crussia; e3v Icaria; e4r Mandria; e4v Formacus and Agatussa, uninhabited islands; e5r Samos; e5v Fournoi, five deserted islands; e6r Tenosa, with ruins; e6v Psara, with ruins; e8v Chios, full-page, showing Homer's tomb; e10r Lesbos, full-page; f1r Tenedos, almost full-page, showing the ruins of Troy on the Turkish mainland; f2v the Dardanelles and Gallipoli, full-page, showing a dozen windmills; f3r Prinkipo [Marmorea]; f3v Calonimo, showing the castle; f4r five monastic rock cliffs; f7r Constantinople, full-page detailed bird's-eye view of the city at the end of Byzantine rule, showing Hagia Sophia and numerous other monuments, Pera cemetery across the Bosporus; f8r Lemnos; f8v Imbros; f8v Samothrace [Mandrachi]; f9r Thasos; f10r Mount Athos, showing four monasteries, including Vatopedi and Great Lavra; f10v Ayios Evstratios; f10v Limen; g1r Dromos; g1r Makronisi; g1v Skiathos and Skopelos; g2r Monastery of St. Elias on a cliff-top near Skopelos; g2v Skiros; g3v Negropont, almost full-page, showing the bridge to the mainland and views of Athens and Thebes; g4r unnamed island.

LITERATURE: W. Sidney Allen, "Kalóyeros: an Atlantis in Microcosm," in Imago Mundi 29, pp. 54ff; H.L. Turner, "Christopher Buondelmonti and the Isolario," in Terrae Incognitae XIX, 1987, pp. 11-28. A. Campara, "Da codici del Buondelmonti," in Studi Bizantini e Neoellenici, 1957; J.R. Akerman and R.W. Karrow Jr., Maps. Finding our Place in the World. University of Chicago Press, 2007, pp. 296-99; C.U. Faye and W.H. Bond, Supplement to the Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada (1962) 437.4; The World Encompassed 80 and pl. LVIII.
Sale room notice
The original owner has been identified as Giacomo Alfieri (Latin name Iacobus Alifer Aquilanus). Born in L'Aquila, Alfieri followed Francesco Sforza from the kingdom of Naples to Milan. A chancellor in the early reign of Francesco's son Galeazzo, Alfieri joined the Duke's inner circle in 1469, becoming chancellor di camera and handling outgoing correspondence. In 1475 he became Secretary to the Privy Council. See E. Pellegrin, La Bibliothéque des Visconti et des Sforza ducs de Milan, supplement, p.46, where Alfieri's arms are described. In 1473 Vincenzo Foppa, the leading painter then at the Milanese court, executed an illuminated world map, a 'mappamondo', for him.

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