LEONARDO BRUNI, ARETINUS, Il libro del primo bello punico, in Italian translation of 'uno suo amico', ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[Florence, mid-15th century]
196 x 142mm. i + 95 leaves: 111(i later inserted singleton), 2-910, 106(vi as pastedown), modern pencil foliation, catchwords at inner margin of final versos, prickings visible in a few outer margins, 27 lines written in a humanistic hand in brown ink between two verticals and 28 horizontals ruled in plummet, justification: 128 x 85mm, rubrics in red, OPENING LEAF WITH LARGE WHITE-VINE INITIALS AND TWO-SIDED BORDER INCORPORATING ARMS, and THREE LARGE WHITE-VINE INITIALS opening each Book, and added full-page pictorial frontispiece (outer edge of frontispiece worn and wormed, small hole to ff.1-2 affecting text, inner border of opening folio worn, abrasions to outer margins, putti's features retouched). Old red velvet, gilt edges (restored at spine and edges, some wear, lacking clasps).
1. The original coat of arms, once in the wreath held by two putti in the lower border of the opening folio, have been replaced with those of a subseqent owner.
2. 'Dominus de ... valguarnera miles': his ex libris inscription dated 1543 on final verso. Valguarnera is in Sicily and this lord may be the Giovanni Girolamo, barone di Assaro who in 1543 was granted the privilege of building a residence in Caropipi and naming the place Valguarnera. It was presumably an owner in Sicily who drew attention to the textual mentions of Palermo in marginal annotations.
3. Purchased Emil Offenbacher 9 June 1953.
Commentarius de bello Punico, in three books.
Leonardo Bruni Aretino (1369-1444), who began his career as a papal secretary and ended it after many years as Chancellor of Florence, embodies the combination of classical learning and civic responsibility which characterised the earliest phase of Florentine humanism. He came to Florence from his home town of Arezzo in 1384, became a close friend of the Chancellor Coluccio Salutati, and in 1397 studied Greek with Manuel Chrysoloras. Many of his works, including the Latin text from which the Italian text in this manuscript is translated, were themselves translations from the Greek (including Plato, Aristotle and Xenophon). In this case, the Commentarius de bello Punico, written in 1418/19, consisted largely of a translation from books I and II of the author Polybius (2nd Century BC). Though largely a dispassionate account of the conflict between Rome and Carthage, Polybius' overt approval of the Roman system of government, with its balance of monarchical, aristocratic and democratic elements, accorded well with Bruni's passionate commitment to the republican government of his beloved Florence. His search for sources and considered critical judgements have earned him the title 'the first modern historian' (B.L. Ullman, 'Leonardo Bruni and Humanistic Historiography', Medievalia et Humanistica, 4 (1946), 45-61 (p. 61).
Unlike many of his humanist contemporaries, Bruni was also committed to the vernacular and considered that Italian, or rather Tuscan, properly written, could equal Greek or Latin as a vehicle for the expression of ideas. His history of Florence, the Historia Florentini populi (begun in 1415), was translated into Italian by Donato Acciaiuoli, but the identity of the translator of this work, called in the rubric 'a friend' (uno suo amico), is not known. The manuscript itself typifies Florentine book production of the second quarter of the 15th century; the delicacy of the white-vine stem initials and border, and the clarity of the humanistic script combine to produce a book of simple, restrained elegance. The frontispiece, perhaps showing personifications of the peoples of Carthage and Rome, is a later addition.