CICERO, Marcus Tullius (106-43 BC). De oratore, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[Padua, first quarter 15th century] 290 x 210mm. 129 leaves: 1-310, 49(of 10, lacking i), 5-1310, catchwords in centre lower margin of final versos, signatures a-n with, some way apart, an arabic numeral 1-5 in the outer lower corner of the first five rectos of a gathering often survive, 33 lines written in brown ink in a semi-humanistic hand between two verticals and on 33 horizontals faintly ruled, justification: 183 x 123mm, paraphs alternately red and blue, two large blue initials with decorative penwork flourishing of red, TWO LARGE ILLUMINATED INITIALS with foliate staves of pink, green, grey, blue and yellow against grounds of burnished gold and with spiked gold disks in the margins, OPENING LEAF WITH ILLUMINATED INITIAL, THREE-SIDED BORDER AND CENTRAL COAT OF ARMS (opening page border cropped at lower edge, smudging and losses to pigment in initial and lower border). 18th-century vellum over pasteboard with green morocco lettering piece (splits at lower joints, small losses from vellum at lower edges).
1. The Paduan family of Forzadura: coat of arms and B.F. monogram on opening folio.
2. Thorpe: paper label 394 on spine and written in pencil inside upper cover), sold to --
3. Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872): his lionstamp and Sir T.P. Middle Hill and number 4273 inside upper cover, and label on spine. British Library, Loan 36/17.
Marcus Tullius Cicero, De oratore, in three books, lacking one leaf from Book II, ii/8 to iv/16.
Written during a period of withdrawal from Roman political life, the De oratore was intended by Cicero to replace his own De inventione, which he had completed before his twenty-fifth birthday. This more mature work treats rhetoric in three books, exploring the nature, social obligations and educational requirements of oratory and the orator in the first, rhetorical devices and techniques in the second, and issues of eloquence and embellishment in the third.
The role of the De oratore in the development of medieval rhetorical thought remains largely unexplored, and its notably complex transmission has yet to be fully unravelled. A defective version of the text was known in northern Italy from at least 1300, and it did form part of an extensive collection of Ciceronian texts owned by Petrarch (MS Troyes, BM 552). The humanist Gasparino Barzizza nobly attempted to supplement the text with his own conjectures, but the complete version was only brought to light in 1421, when Gerardo Landriani discovered an ancient codex of rhetorical texts by Cicero at the cathedral of Lodi near Milan; this Laudensis was lost by 1428. The presence of the De oratore in this Paduan manuscript of the early 15th century sees the text at a crucial period in its transmission.
The border and illuminated initials, with their intensely coloured, scrolling acanthus and gold disks are typical of manuscripts produced in Padua in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries.