TELESPHORUS OF COSENZA, Libellus, in Latin, illustrated manuscript on vellum [northern Italy, c.1390]
Apocalyptic, prophetic and politically partisan, the Libellus fratris thelofori heremite was the most colourful and significant treatise of the Papal Schism (1378-1417). This vividly illustrated copy was produced close to the work’s original composition.
(1) There are no obvious signs of early ownership but script and parchment show the manuscript to be Italian in origin. The doublets with padded chests, tight skirts and two-layered sleeves are characteristic of secular male dress fashionable in northern Italy towards the end of the 14th century. It seems that the manuscript was made close to 1386, the date given in the text for its composition. (2) Marginal annotations in various hands show that the manuscript remained in Italy and continued to be used until at least the 16th century. (3) FREDERICK NORTH, 5TH EARL OF GUILFORD, his sale Sotheby's, 8 December 1838, lot 495. (4) Estate of 7TH DUKE OF NEWCASTLE, CLUMBER PARK SALE, Sotheby's, 6 December 1937, lot 963. (5) MAURICE BURRUS. Purchased from Lauria, ?1937.
Dedicatory letter to Antoniotto Adorno, doge of Genoa (1340-98) ff.1-2v; Libellus de causis, statu ac fine presentis sismatis et tribulationum futuram maxime tempori futuri ff.3-32.
The composition of this work was prompted by the chaos of the Papal Schism. Pope Gregory XV had left Avignon to re-establish the papal see in Rome but following his death in 1378 rival popes were established in both cities: Urban VI in Rome and Clement VII in Avignon. The rulers of Europe were divided in their support. The author, claiming to be a holy hermit named Telesphorus, tells of a dream-vision he had on Easter morning 1386 when an angel referred him to literary sources, so that he could understand the causes and duration of the Schism and recognise which was the true and which the false Pope. On waking Telesphorus enlisted the assistance of a friend and set out on his researches. He consulted and drew on the major prophetic works of his time for his own treatise, pulling together ideas from earlier eschatological treatises – with Joachim de Fiore and Jean de Roquetaillande having especial importance – glossing them with a commentary linking them to contemporary circumstances and spicing them with innovations. He identified the Schism as a punishment for the sins of the Roman Church and its clergy and foretold its end in 1393 when the Italian Pope, the anti-pope, will be slain in Perugia. The Church would then be renewed and the clergy would return to apostolic poverty. Total peace and union, however, would only happen when a new Pope, a Pastor Angelicus, appeared who would take the Imperial Crown from the Germans and bestow it upon the French King Charles, who would go on to recover Jerusalem and bring about union with the Greek Church. R. Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Poets, Saints and Visionaries of the Great Schism, 1378-1417, 2006; F. Courtney Kneupper, The Empire at the End of Time; Identity and Reform in Late Medieval German Prophecy, 2016.
Around 50 manuscripts are known in French and Latin. According to the Schoenberg database no other copy has been offered at auction for 200 years. Notwithstanding the failure of history to conform to the foretold events, the Libellus continued to be popular, manuscripts continued to be copied and an edition printed in Venice in 1516. The present copy is an unusually early example.
The illustrations, drawn in brown with ochre, red, blue and brown bodycolour and pale pink tones for flesh, pick out key events from the prophecy. The battles between various Anti-Christs – including Gog – rulers, angels and demons are lively if unsophisticated – a feature of the illustration of many prophetic manuscripts. P. Guerrini, Propaganda politica e profezie figurate nel tardo Medioevo, 1997.
The drawings are on ff.5, 19, 19v, 21, 22, 22v, 24, 28v, 31v and 32.
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION AND CONDITION:
298 x 215mm. 32 leaves: COMPLETE, text pages usually 37 lines, ruled space 227 x 155mm, red penwork initials, TEN ILLUSTRATED PAGES (some staining, minor except on the first and final folios, some spotting and rubbing). 19th-century ?English calf embossed to a lattice pattern (crazed and rubbed).