Nichasius de Planca, De Precepto Prudentie, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[northeastern France or Flanders, late 13th century]
199 x 134mm. 113 leaves: 1-812, 99, 108, apparently COMPLETE gatherings 1-7 with catchwords at the lower inner corner of final versos and each gathering numbered by later binder at the lower edge of first recto, 19 lines written in dark brown ink in a gothic bookhand between two verticals and 20 horizontals, the upper and lower pairs across margins, within an outer frame of paired lines all ruled in brown ink, justification: 108 x 79mm, rubrics in red, text capitals touched red, one-line initials or paraphs of red or blue, line-endings and marginal chapter numbers of red and blue, authors' names in margins in red or brown, two-line initials with text-height terminals in gold flourished red and blue, THREE HISTORIATED INITIALS WITH THREE-SIDED BORDERS in burnished gold, pink, blue and orange-red containing animals and drolleries, ILLUMINATED INITIAL WITH THREE-SIDED BORDER of the same type. Early 19th-century English calf, covers gilt and rolled in blind, spine gilt and tooled in blind (edges rubbed, hinges split).
1. The text is dedicated to William, Bishop of Utrecht, to whom the author presents his work on f.2v. The only medieval bishop of Utrecht of this name was William of Mechelen, bishop from 4 February 1296 until his death 4 July 1301. The style of the manuscript suggests exactly this dating for its execution and this combined with the elegance and scrupulousness of its production, together with the fact that the text has not been traced in any other copy, suggest that this is the original author's presentation copy. Minor emendations throughout the text in a contemporary hand show notable attention to detail and knowledge of the text, and may be Nichasius's own proof-reading of his work. The brief marginal glosses do not greatly post-date the original text.
2. Johannes Pochon: 16th-century annotation to final leaf, together with a (presumably punning) drawing of a tankard.
3. The fourth Earl of Ashburnham (1797-1878): a note in pencil inside the upper cover reads Barrois with the number 178. This manuscript was number clxxviii in the Ashburnham collection and was one of the collection of 702 manuscripts bought from Joseph Barrois in 1849: Catalogue of the manuscripts at Ashburnham Place, part the second, comprising a collection formed by Mons. J. Barrois. It was lot 423 in the Ashburnham-Barrois sale, Sotheby's 10 June 1901. The catalogue of the sale in the British Library identifies the purchaser as Charles Fairfax Murray.
4. Anton W.M. Mensing of Amsterdam (1866-1936), director and owner of Frederick Müller, auctioneers of Amsterdam : his sale Sotheby's 15-17 December 1936, lot 411, bought by Maggs.
5. Alan Lubbock: his armorial bookplate inside upper cover.
Nichasius de Planca, De precepto prudentie, introduction and contents of Book 1, ff.1-2r; Book 1, ff.2v-57r; contents of Book 2, ff.57r-58r; Book 2, ff.58r-112; f.113 unrelated fragment of text in a 14th-century hand on the nature of the soul.
A 13TH-CENTURY DEFENCE OF POETRY: comprising the teaching of the allegorical figure of Prudentia, and a treatise on the correct understanding of the classical poets. The first book, in 15 chapters, introduces the work and its purpose, eulogises the dedicatee, and relates how the figure of Prudentia (Learning) appeared to the author as he worked late on his studies at the University of Paris (Chs 1-4); her appearance is described, and the significance of her diadem and sceptre, which bear symbols representing the learned virtues, with a special commendation of Socrates as the epitome of these (Chs 5-11); Prudentia and the author converse, and she urges him to write in commendation of the study of poetry. In Book 2, Nichasius extolls the uses of poetry and criticises its neglect by his contemporaries, explains the materials and techniques used by the classical poets, praises Ovid as the most skilful manipulator of these, and confronts some adverse views (Chs 1-7); he explains the moral purpose of poetry in punishing the bad and elevating the good, and reproves the polytheism of the classical poets ('gentiles'), while offering some interpretation of it (Chs 8-11); finally, he elevates Ovid as the supreme poet, lauding his moral purpose, reproving his erotic poems, and offering a symbolic reading of the role of the gods in his works.
Nichasius's style complements his matter: the chapters throughout alternate between prose and hexameter verse, and he cites an impressive range of classical authors, from poets such as his favourite Ovid and Horace, to philosophers such as Aristotle, Boethius and Seneca and and other prose writers such as Cicero, Tacitus and even Apuleius. The personability and tendentiousness of the text, and its rooting in the author's studies of the liberal arts at the University of Paris, make this a most attractive and individual contribution to the academic controversies of the late 13th Century, surviving here in this immaculate and possibly unique presentation copy.
The inventive drolleries -- including a juggler spinning plates up into the blank outer margin -- and the architectural initials are characteristic of manuscripts illuminated in northeastern France or Flanders at the end of the 13th century. The border forms and figure styles are particularly close to illumination localisable to Arras and grouped around the Livre de Saladin (Paris, BnF, fr.12203): P. De Winter, La Bibliothèque de Philippe le Hardi, duc de Bourgogne (1364-1404), 1985.
f.1 historiated initial U with the author seated at a lectern reading, in the inner border a girl playing a viol, a hare in the lower border and a juggler spinning plates
f.2v historiated initial V with Nichasius kneeling and presenting his work to Bishop William of Utrecht within a finialed gothic arcade, a young man in the lower border playing a portative organ for a dancing hare
f.58 illuminated intial and border with a bounding hound
f.59v historiated intial with Nichasius reading beneath a gothic arch and border with a seated cat