JULIUS FIRMICUS MATERNUS (4th century). Matheseos Libri VIII, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[Rome], 1468280 x 186mm. 154 leaves, 1-1510, 164, COMPLETE, 51 lines written in a humanistic hand in black/brown ink between two verticals ruled in plummet and 52 horizontals ruled in ink, justification: 191 x 113mm, paraphs, rubrics and sidenotes in pink, EIGHT LARGE WHITE-VINE INITIALS with staves of burnished gold on grounds and infills of blue, green and red, FULL-PAGE WHITE-VINE BORDER WITH PUTTI, PARROTS, HARES AND BIRDS standing on the tendrils that entwine around the burnished gold bars that meet in an interlace in the middle of the outer margin, TWO PUTTI SUPPORTING A WREATH WITH THE ARMS OF BISHOP ANGELO FASOLO in the centre of the lower margin (minimal thumbing of outer edges of folio 1, surface abraded from arms and wreath). 19th-century tan morocco gilt with gilt turn-ins, spine gilt in six compartments.
A RARE CLASSICAL TEXT MADE FOR ANGELO FASOLO
1. Angelo Fasolo (1426-1491), Bishop of Cattaro, Modon and Feltre successively; patron of the present manuscript and the holder of a notable library. The careful corrections and additions which have been added in pink ink in the margins are perhaps those of Fasolo himself, or those of a subsequent owner.
2. Rev. Henry Drury, Harrow: his ownership inscription and shelfmark on second endleaf, his sale, 19 February 1827.
3. Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872): his number 3374 on paper label on spine; British Library, Loan 36/15.
Julius Firmicus Maternus, Matheseos libri VIII ff.1-152v.
The Mathesis of Julius Firmicus Maternus is the final and most complete statement on astrology from the Classical world. It was written in about 330 AD at the request of the consul of Campania, Lollianus Mavortius, and after an introduction in which Firmicus reveals himself to be a Sicilian by birth and a lawyer by training, he sets about defending the Stoic doctrine of extreme determinism in which man's fate is utterly controlled by the stars. In the remaining seven books, the characteristics of each of the seven known planets and their impact on human character and disposition are set forth in exhaustive detail, drawing on a wide range of ancient philosophers and astrologers, including Ptolemy (fl. 127-148 AD) and Manilius (first century AD). It was Poggio Bracciolini who brought this compendious text to the attention of fifteenth-century students of the heavens, when he came across a manuscript in the library of Monte Cassino in 1429 (Ep. III, 39).
The patron of this manuscript, Angelo Fasolo (1426-1491), was clearly much drawn to the controversial subject of astrology, for his celebrated library also included manuscripts of Ptolemy (MS Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. Lat. 2053) and Manilius. He was bishop successively of Cattaro, Modon and Feltre, a member of the household of Pope Paul II, and close associate of the Roman humanist Pomponio Leto who dedicated his Fabius to him and declared in his Defensio in carceribus to defend himself against charges brought by the Papacy, that Fasolo was the only mind in Rome worthy of judging him.
Traces of Fasolo's remarkable library can be found in manuscripts in the Vatican, Turin and London, and show that he employed a range of illuminators and scribes of the first rank, including Bartolomeo San Vito (preliminary list given in J. Ruysschaert, 'Miniaturistes romains sous Pie II', in D. Maffei, ed., Enea Silvio Piccolomini, Papa Pio II, 1968, p. 265, nn. 131 and 132). Here, the illuminator is the immensely prolific German artist, Gioacchino di Giovanni de' Gigantibus, first documented in Rome in 1455 and illuminator for Fasolo and other curial patrons over the following thirty years (M. Bollati, Dizionario biografico dei miniatori, 2004, pp. 265-267). The illumination in this manuscript shows Gigantibus, who was also scribe and illuminator to King Ferdinand I of Naples from 1471 to 1471, at his most characteristic, using densely interwoven white vine-stem inhabited with animals and putti. While the manuscript was written and signed by Leonardus Iob (who also worked for Mathias Corvinas, King of Hungary: see Ruysschaert, 1968, p. 274, n.193), its text is supplemented by a contemporary reader, possibly Fasolo himself, who added a series of scholarly annotations (especially in Book II, ff.13v, 14, 15v, 16) and diagrams (ff.20, 22v) in pink and black ink. These serve only to add to the interest of this Firmicus manuscript, the first to be auctioned for thirty years.