PONTIFICAL, Vallombrosan use, in Latin. ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM. [Florence], 1518.
290 x 210 mm. 84 leaves: 1-710 88 96, COMPLETE. 21 lines written in black and red ink in a round Italian gothic script between 2 vertical and 22 horizontal lines ruled in pale brown ink, justification: 190 x 125 mm. 66 pages with up to four staves of music consisting of three or four lines ruled in red with square black neumes. Liturgical instructions in red, paragraph signs in blue, line-fillers of fine black pen-work tracery sometimes washed green or yellow, one-line text initials with fine black pen-tracery often washed yellow or green, one-line Lombard initials alternately in red and blue, numerous two-line Lombards alternately red and blue with elaborate pen-flourishing in the opposite color often extending the height of the page, five Lombards in burnished gold with blue or red-and-blue pen-work, FIVE LARGE ILLUMINATED HISTORIATED INITIALS AND THREE ILLUMINATED INITIALS in colors and liquid gold and silver on burnished gold grounds or in burnished gold on colored grounds, TWO PORTRAIT ROUNDELS with burnished gold grounds, classical border on f. 1r consisting of blue foliage inhabited by grotesque faces and cherubs on a burnished gold ground surrounded by tiny burnished gold dots each with fine black pen-work tracery. (The silver oxydized, some rubbing to burnished gold, slight darkening to historiated initials on ff. 1r and 61r, minor finger-soiling to extreme lower margins, some flaking of ink from flesh sides.)
Binding: contemporary Italian goatskin over wooden boards, blind-tooled to a double frame pattern, the central compartment with gold-tooled arabesques and YHS symbol, two clasps consisting of leather straps with chased and hinged brass strap-ends catching on pins on back cover, gilt edges, red and green silk endbands (minor wear to extremities, discreet restoration to leather straps, one strap separated but the detached piece with strap end present); modern drop- back cloth box.
Provenance: copied in 1518, when Dianora de Maclavellis was abbess, at the command of Sister Leonarda de Masis, for use by the nuns at the monastery of St. John the Evangelist of the order of Vallombrosa at the gate of Faenza in Florence: colophon, f. 84v (Deo et genitrice gloriose virgini Marie et Beate Humilitati, librum istum scribere feci Soror Leonarda de Masis devotione ducta, pro monasterio sancti Johannis evangeliste, ordinis Vallisumbrose ad portam Faventie, anno domini Mo.ccccco.xoviijo, Domina Dianora de Maclavellis existente eiusdem monasterii abbatissa) -- occasional marginal annotations including an additional prayer for the blessing of the ring (f. 16v) -- [unidentified sale, 3/6/46: catalogue clipping attached to pastedown] -- W. A. Foyle, Beeleigh Abbey: bookplate -- [Lathrop Harper 1976]
Contents: rite for the reception and clothing of a novice: Ordo ad induendam novitiam puellam secundum ordinem vallis umbrose (ff. 1r-6r); rite for the consecration of a virgin: De benedictione et consecratione virginum secundum ordinem vallumbrose (ff. 6v-43v); rite for the installation of an abbess: Ordo ad eligendam confirmandam et benedicendam novam abbatissam (ff. 44r-60r); proper for the office of St. John the Evangelist (ff. 60v); ceremonial for a pontifical mass (ff. 61r-83v); proper for an unidentified office (f. 84r); colophon (f. 84v).
The monastery of St. John the Evangelist at the gate of Faenza in Florence, founded in 1282, was one of the earliest communities of Vallombrosan nuns. St. Humilitas, who established the order between 1262 and 1266, chose the dedication because of her particular devotion to St. John the Evangelist. She died at the monastery 1310 and was buried beside its altar. The convent is said to have attracted the patronage and the professions of Florentine noblewomen and was clearly enjoying a period of prosperity in the early 16th century when this pontifical was commissioned. In 1527, the original monastery buildings were demolished to make way for the fortifications of Florence. The nuns moved to the church of S. Salvi, which had previously belonged to Vallombrosan monks, taking the relics of St. Humilitas with them. S. Salvi continued to function as the mother-house for the order of Vallombrosan nuns until it was suppressed in the early 19th century.
The male branch of the Vallombrosan order had been founded in the 11th century by St. John Gualbert, who adopted the rule of St. Benedict but sought to establish a stricter and more contemplative life than was customary in Benedictine monasteries. The earliest Vallombrosans wore gray habits, but then switched to brown, and finally, in the 16th century, to black. In this manuscript of 1518, the older custom of wearing brown is the one still represented in the miniatures of St. John Gualbert and St. Humilitas.
Illumination: The decoration of this manuscript may be securely attributed to Monte di Giovanni del Fora (1448-1532/33), one of the leading Florentine illuminators of the late 15th and early 16th centuries. From the 1460s Monte, together with his brother Gherardo (ca. 1444-1497), illuminated liturgical books for Florentine churches, and in the 1480s they decorated several luxurious manuscripts for the library of Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary. After Gherardo's death, Monte continued to work on similar commissions, including a series of choirbooks illuminated between 1514 and 1521 for the Duomo of Florence. The decorative vocabulary of present manuscript corresponds closely to that of the choirbooks. The motifs of the monochrome border of classicizing elements and cherubim on a burnished gold ground is repeated in the initials of the choirbooks, as is the surround of tiny gold dots, each elaborately pen-flourished (cf., e.g., the initial H from Florence, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Codice C, reproduced in A. Garzelli, Miniatura fiorentina del rinascimento, Florence 1985, fig. 1016). The faces of the acolytes in the initial on f. 60r are echoed in the faces of young clerics and angels in the choirbooks (cf. Garzelli, fig. 1017, 1019, both from Codice C), and the face of St. John Gualbert on f. 6v occurs again as the face of St. Peter in a miniature of Pentecost (Garzelli, fig. 1025, from Codice F). Both Codice C and Codice F were illuminated between 1519 and 1521, according to the accounts of the Opera del Duomo, making them contemporary with the illumination of the pontifical of St. John the Evangelist. Since much of Monte's work for the Duomo was destroyed or badly damaged in the Florence flood of 1966, this previously unrecorded example of his artistic production becomes a significant witness to his talent in this period of his career.
The subjects of the portrait roundels are:
f. 1r St. John the Evangelist with pen, book and eagle
f. 6v St. Humilitas
The subjects of the historiated initials are:
f. 1r The rite of profession: a novice standing before a bishop, the community of nuns in the background
f. 6v St. John Gualbert
f. 44r St. Humilitas
f. 60v St. John the Evangelist
f. 60r A bishop with miter and crozier accompanied by two clerics