PETRUS HAEDUS (CAVRETTO), Nova de Miraculis Disputatio, in Latin, DECORATED MANUSCRIPT ON PAPER
[Pordenone, Italy] 11 May 1493
132 x 100mm. iii(title laid down on iii) + 77 + iii leaves: 1-710, 87(i a singleton), vertical catchwords at inner lower margins of final versos, modern foliation in pencil, 19 lines in black ink in a semi-gothic cursive bookhand between two verticals and 19 horizontals ruled in plummet and pale brown ink, justification: 88 x 58mm, rubrics in red, three-line initial in red, a few marginal annotations in a different hand, the later title-page in black and red ink within ruled border (textblock split in a few places, four leaves reinforced at gutter, very light browning to opening leaves, occasional smudging of red ink). 18th-century paper over pasteboard, spine titled in black ink (joints rubbed, wear at head and foot of spine).
1. The work appears to be written by Cavretto himself, and dedicated to Leonello Chieregato (1443-1506), Bishop of Concordia, and the papal nuncio in France (1487) who in 1490 was sent to England by Charles VIII to try and bring about peace between France and Henry VII.
2. Lorenzo del Torre of Cividale, in the mid-18th century (see note below)
3. Evans, 2 March 1826, Thorpe catalogue, lot 168
4. William Henry Niger, London, 6 March 1851, inscription in Latin on front endleaf.
5. G[iuseppe] Martini
6. Sold H.P. Kraus, 1956, catalogue 189, lot 83.
Index, f.1, Nova de Miraculis Disputatio ff.2-77v.
Nothing in the modest appearance of this paper manuscript, with its simple penwork decoration and frontispiece, suggests the intensity and intellectual ambition of its elusive scribe and author, Pietro Capretto (or Cavretto, also known as Del Zochul, or in humanist guise, Petrus Haedus or Edus). He was born in Pordenone in Friuli in 1427, and until his death in 1504 spent the vast majority of his life there, and was from 1475 parish priest at the church of San Marco (DBI, 19, 186-190). Beyond this we know little in terms of events, but his writings speak of an intense commitment to literature and to polemic. From his first known work, the ambitions of this provincial priest are clear: nineteen Italian poems in terza rima on the dangers of earthly love are cast as a narrative in which the dreamer-poet, in direct imitation of Dante's Commedia divina, is accompanied through the kingdom of the slaves of Love by no lesser companions than Ovid and Boethius (Venice, Bibl. Naz. Marciana, It. Cl. IX, 96 [=6636]). Later, his Anterotica takes up the same themes, elaborating on the dangers of love and pride through a dense web of classical allusions. But this literary bent is tempered by a profound religious vocation that, in 1496, saw Pietro prepared to take on one of the towering figures of quattrocento humanist philology, Lorenzo Valla. In an Antidotum and an Apologia (both dedicated to the dedicatee of this manuscript, Leonello Chieregato, Bishop of Concordia), Pietro launches an assault on the Valla's De falso credita et ementita Constantini Magna donatione, the work in which Valla had challenged the basis of the Church's claim to temporal power. With an astute analysis of Valla's psychological flaws (envy, pride and his inability to submit to spiritual authority), and a passionate argument in favour of the necessity and reality of the Church's power, Pietro attempted to overturn Valla's arguments.
The polemics against Valla were written in a form favoured by Pietro and many of his contemporaries, the dialogue. Here too, in the Nova de miraculis disputatio, 'Pietro' and 'Jacobus' (Jacopo Gordino of Aquileia), whose names are picked out in red in the text, discuss the nature of miracles, why God performs them, their role in the canonisation process and the difference between divine and diabolical miracles (recent miraculous happenings in the church near the castle of Fanna are the impetus for their conversation). The manuscript is dated 11 May 1493, and is surely the one seen by Gian-Giuseppe Liruti in the house of Lorenzo del Torre of Cividale in the middle years of the 18th century (G.G. Liruti, Notizie delle Vite ed Opere scritte de' Letterati del Friuli, vol. 1, Venice, 1760, pp. 434-5, which quotes the colophon). Liruti was convinced the book was an autograph on the basis of another Cavretto manuscript he himself owned; in the census of Cavretto's work drawn up in 1962, this, THE ONLY KNOWN COPY OF THE TEXT, is declared lost (S. Benedetti, 'Pietro Cavretto Pordenonese, dotto sacerdote e umanista', Il Noncello, 18 (1962), 3-91 (p. 83). It seems a fitting tribute to the tenacity and ambition of this learned parish priest that the UNIQUE MANUSCRIPT of his work on miracles, last sighted in the 18th century, should resurface some 250 years later.