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VEGETIUS, Publius Flavius Renatus (c. 383-450 CE). Digesta artis Mulomedicinae and Curis Boum Epithoma ex diversis auctoribus, illuminated manuscript on paper [Naples, c.1480-90]
VEGETIUS, Publius Flavius Renatus (c. 383-450 CE). Digesta artis Mulomedicinae and Curis Boum Epithoma ex diversis auctoribus, illuminated manuscript on paper [Naples, c.1480-90]
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VEGETIUS, Publius Flavius Renatus (c. 383-450 CE). Digesta artis Mulomedicinae and Curis Boum Epithoma ex diversis auctoribus, illuminated manuscript on paper [Naples, c.1480-90]

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VEGETIUS, Publius Flavius Renatus (c. 383-450 CE). Digesta artis Mulomedicinae and Curis Boum Epithoma ex diversis auctoribus, illuminated manuscript on paper [Naples, c.1480-90]

A unique survival: an unrecorded illuminated manuscript of Vegetius’ Mulomedicina, his influential compilation on equine and bovine veterinary medicine, signed by the royal scribe Ippolito da Luna, and commissioned for the Ferrillo family of Naples, still preserved in its contemporary binding from the Masone di Maio workshop.


283 x 186mm. i + 112 + i leaves. 28 lines written in dark brown ink by Hippolytus Lunensis (Ippolito da Luna), catchwords throughout, ruled space: 185 x 140 mm. Coat of arms of the Ferrillo family of Naples on f.3, three illuminated initials. The watermark, a mermaid with two tails in a circle, matches Briquet 13880, localisable to Naples, c.1480 (lacking f.58, heavy ink erosion and offsetting especially to opening leaves, red ink very faded, marginal staining and spotting, horizontal slit to f.36).

Binding: Original blind-tooled calf over wooden boards with rollstamp-decoration and ornamental gilt stamps from the Neapolitan workshop of Masone di Maio, gilt title VEGETIUS on front cover, gauffered edges (scuffed and worn, the leather torn at edges revealing wooden boards, spine cracked, lacking clasps and one catch). See T. de Marinis, La legatura artistica in Italia, vol. 1, tav. XXXVII, no 224; for a reproduction of a very similar binding see A. Hobson, Humanists and Bookbinders, Cambridge, 1989, pp. 110ff., and pp. 258ff. with a list of known bindings by this artist.


Provenance: (1) Produced in Naples for the Ferrillo family, probably for Mazzeo Ferrillo (fl. second half 15th century), castellan of Capri, lord of Montefredano and Count of Muro: his coat of arms or, a chevron gules on a chief azure three mullets of the field. Mazzeo is buried in the family sepulchre at Santa Maria La Nova that he commissioned from the sculptor Jacopo Della Pila in 1499 (a tomb he allegedly – and somewhat sensationally – shares with Vlad the Impaler). The manuscript was written by the royal scribe Ippolito da Luna: colophon f.111v. The paper watermark is Briquet 13880 and dates it to the final two decades of the 15th century. (2) ‘Lo echuyer maior se chiama mingoval’: early 16th-century inscription on f.i. This probably refers to Charles de Lannoy (1487-1527), seigneur de Mingoval, who in 1507 was appointed ‘grand écuyer’ of the future Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. It is likely he still held this role when Charles became King of Naples in 1516 (as Charles IV, along with his mother Joanna III). De Lannoy became vice-roy of Naples in 1522. (3) Late 16th-century annotations and maniculae in the margins throughout, likely by a practising veterinarian. (4) Els Llibres del Tirant, catalogue 17, no 2 (2007).


Content: Prologue to the Mulomedicina, beginning: ‘Mulomedicine apud Grecos Latinosque auctores non fuit [cura] postrema Sicut enim animalia post hominem [...]’ f.1; Mulomedicina, books 1-3, beginning: ‘Quibus signis egritudo animalium cognoscatur. Continuo enim animal quod ualitudo [...]’ ff.3-101 ; De curis boum epithoma ex diversis auctoribus ff.102-111v; index f.112v-lower pastedown.


Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus is the author of two major works: the first, the Epitoma rei militaris, is one of the most influential military treatises in the Western world; the second, the Mulomedicina, is a work in three books entirely devoted to equine veterinary medicine, often appearing, as here, with a fourth part covering the diseases of cattle.

The Mulomedicina reveals contemporary Roman preoccupation with farm management and the declining state of equine and bovine veterinary medicine. Throughout, Vegetius emerges as someone anxious to justify veterinary medicine as a discipline as worthy of study and respect as human medicine. Drawing on Pelagonius’ Ars veterinaria, Columella’s Opus Agriculturae, and Chiron’s Mulomedicina, as well as Xenophon, Aristotle, Cato and Varro, the Mulomedicina is a self-advertised compilation, but it is also written by someone who professes a sincere love of horses (Mul. I prol. 6) and who declares himself qualified to pronounce on the characteristics of the various breeds of horses – Roman and barbarian – based on knowledge gained from his extensive travels through the Empire and from managing his own stables (see M. R. Mezzabotta, ‘Aspects of multiculturalism in the Mulomedicina of Vegetius’, Akroterion, 45, 2000, pp.52-64). Book 1 of the treatise sets out the symptoms and etiology of morbid conditions to which horses are prone, and prescribes a wide range of therapies, including herbal drenches and enemas, blood-letting, massage and surgery. Book 2 discusses the afflictions to which the various parts of the horse’s anatomy are subject. Book 3 is a collection of pharmaceutical recipes, including worm mixtures, ointments and plasters for various conditions. The final treatise, the Cura Boum, is devoted to cattle and their ailments.

In 1996, Vicenzo Ortoleva knew of only 19 surviving Latin copies of the Mulomedicina, only two of which in private collections (see V. Ortoleva, La tradizione manoscritta della ‘Mulomedicina’ di Publio Vegezio Renato, Acireale, 1996). Vegetius’ Epitoma rei militaris, in contrast, survives in approximately 200 copies.

The present copy is textually very interesting. The manner in which the chapters are organised and the text is abbreviated and redacted indicates that the manuscript belongs to a small group commonly known as the ‘epitomata branch’ (see Ortoleva, pp.44-5). Within this group we find a luxuriously illuminated copy on vellum of the Mulomedicina produced by Ippolito da Luna for Ferdinand I of Aragon himself (sold at Sotheby’s, 21 June 1994, lot 88), which could well have been modelled on the present copy. Da Luna is known to have complained about the poor quality of his source texts (see Ortoleva 1994, p.45), and we see how in the present manuscript he inserts amendments, inferences and conjectures in red ink in the margins, punctuated by ‘opinor’ (‘I suppose’) and ‘credo’ (‘I believe’).

Tammaro de Marinis lists around 20 manuscripts written or co-written by Ippolito da Luna, almost all of which are now in public institutions.
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