VIRGILIUS MARO, Publius (70-19 BCE). Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[?Rome and Florence, 1460s]
285 x 192mm. 218 leaves: 1-210, 88, 4-2210, COMPLETE, remains of signature marks, letter followed by arabic numeral, in outer lower corners of some folios, later quire letters A-X on final versos, 31 lines written in brown ink in an upright humanistic hand on 31 horizontals ruled in grey ink and between two pairs of verticals ruled in brown, justification: 182 x 92mm, pin-prick from ruling device at bottom right of text, rubrics in pink capitals, FIVE ILLUMINATED INITIALS three- to five-lines high of burnished gold on grounds of blue, pink and green with white decoration and ELEVEN WHITE-VINE INITIALS with staves of burnished gold, EIGHTEEN HISTORIATED INITIALS WITH WHITE-VINE BORDERS with highly burnished gold bars and reserved-parchment tendrils against grounds of pink, blue and green dotted white, with gold disks, fruit and flowers into the margin and inhabited by putti, butterflies, birds or deer (two wormholes in first dozen leaves not affecting text or decoration, extremities of borders very slightly cropped, folio 1 with darkening to outer margins, a pale stain at top corner of outer border and small strip repaired at bottom corner). English 19th-century blindstamped calf inset with LEATHER COVERS FROM THE ORIGINAL BINDING of panelled brown goatskin tooled in blind with multiple fillets bounding ropework border and inner panel, central section with a pointed quadrilobe containing knotted ropework and framed by arcs of annular dots, some annular disks painted gold, page-edges gilt and gauffered to a lattice design and VIRGILIUS written in brown ink on lower edges (slight scuffs, a little wear to upper joint). Green morocco box gilt (scuffed).
A QUINTESSENTIAL RENAISSANCE MANUSCRIPT: THE WORKS OF THE GREATEST ROMAN POET ILLUSTRATED BY THE FAVOURITE ILLUMINATOR OF THE DE' MEDICI
1. The arms of the original owner, or owners, were originally contained within a wreath in the middle of the lower border of folio 1; they have been meticulously erased and replaced with the arms of Beriah Botfield.
The manuscript is likely to have been illuminated in Florence, where Francesco di Antonio del Chierico is known to have worked, but it may have been written in Rome. The script is the upright roman hand of Antonio Tophio as seen in the first part of an Aulus Gellius with the coat of arms of Ludovico Maria Sforza, Duke of Bari (BL, Burney 175): see A.C. de la Mare, 'New Research on Humanistic Scribes in Florence' in Miniatura fiorentino del rinascimento 1440-1525, ed. Annarosa Garzelli (1985), p.439 and A. Fairbank, 'Antonio Tophio', The Journal of the Society of Italic Handwriting, 45 (1965), pp.8-14. Tophio provided colophons, in Latin or Greek, identifying his work in several manuscripts: the Greek colophon in a Montpellier copy of Petrarch's poems is preceded with THE END, in Greek, in exactly the same way as he finishes the Virgil. The colophons often reveal Tophio's place of work to have been Rome. Mgr J. Ruysschaert recognised that Antonio Tophio was identical with the Antonius Dominici de Toffi who wrote manuscripts for, and was a member of the household of, Pope Paul II. Among Tophio's works surviving in the Vatican is the Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Vat. Lat. 1819) written for Paul II in 1469-70: J. Ruysschaert, 'Le Liber juramentorum de la Chambre Apostolique sous Paul II', Miscellanea in memoria d G. Cencetti (1973), pp. 285-291.
Paul II combined his political objectives of checking Turkish expansion and establishing control throughout the papal states with extensive artistic patronage. He was the first pontiff to undertake the preservation of ancient monuments in Rome, and commissioned restorations of the Pantheon, the Arches of Titus and Septimus Severus and the statues of Alexander and Bucephalus and Marcus Aurelius. Already when still a cardinal he had begun to rebuild his titular church of S. Marco and the adjacent palace (now Palazzo Venezia), departing from tradition in the application of Vitruvian principles and the emulation of antique prototypes. The palace came to house rich collections including Florentine goldsmiths' work, antique cameos and intaglios, coins and bronzes. It was under Paul II that the first printing press was installed in Rome, and he provided manuscripts from the Vatican library to serve as exemplars. His taste for Florentine style is shown by his choice of the sculptor Mino da Fiesole to make, in collaboration with Giovanni Dalmata, his extravagant tomb. Lacking any original indication of ownership it is improbable that the commissioner of this Virgil will ever be certainly identified, but it may be that Paul II had the works of the greatest of Roman poets copied by Tophio, a member of his entourage in Rome, and sent to Florence for illumination.
The extent and quality of the illumination makes it an exceptional commission: as well as working for leading Florentine patrons, including members of the de' Medici family, Francesco di Antonio illuminated manuscripts for Renaissance princes throughout Italy and even further afield, including the Kings of France, Naples and Hungary. Whoever was the original owner of this Virgil, such an exquisite volume is likely to have been made for a patron of elevated rank.
2. An erased ownership inscription beneath the rubric of folio 1 is partially legible under ultra-violet light 'Marchese di ?C..valsca'.
3. George Hibbert: no 8440 on the 40th day of his sale at Evans, 4 June 1829, to Thorpe for £57. 16s.
4. Philip Augustus Hanrott: no 1450 in part IV of his sale at Evans, 15 March 1834, described as in original binding and in very fine preservation, to Payne for £40. 19s.
5. Beriah Botfield: his arms on f.1.
Virgil, Georgics ff.1-14v; Bucolics ff.15-52v; Aeneid ff.53-217; 218 blank: with the Books of the Aeneid preceded by the summarising verses attributed to Ovid.
The supreme quality of Virgil's poetry was recognised in his lifetime, and he continued to be read and revered throughout the Middle Ages. In part this was because of the Christian interpretation given to some aspects of his work, but the technical perfection and sustained beauty of his verse was always acknowledged: while Dante cast Virgil as a prophet of Christianity who guided the way to the Gates of Paradise, he also described him as 'il nostro maggior poeta'. With the early renaissance interest in classical literature and the acceptance of the Aeneid as a national epic there was an increase in the number of illuminated Virgil manuscripts produced in Italy. Most, however, were decorated only with white-vine initials, which were believed to be a revived classical form. Even where historiated initials were supplied, only rarely did they illustrate more than the opening pages of the three works. Very few humanistic copies of Virgil were as extensively illustrated as the present manuscript. The only comparably rich example to have been offered for sale in the past twenty-five years is the Feltrinelli manuscript (sold in these rooms, lot 224, 3 December 1997, £700,000).
The enchanting historiated initials that open the Eclogues and each book of the Georgics and Aeneid are the work of Francesco di Antonio del Chierico, the preferred illuminator of the greatest institutional and private patrons of Florence from the 1450s until his death in 1484. Through Vespasiano da Bisticci, Francesco di Antonio came to work for princely patrons throughout Europe, including Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, Ferdinand I, King of Naples, Louis XI of France and Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary. The most discerning commissioners of Florentine books turned to him; but it was with the de' Medici that he had an especially close relationship. From the time of Cosimo il Vecchio to Lorenzo il Magnifico he illustrated manuscripts for them, ranging from giant choirbooks to intimate and compact Books of Hours.
Francesco di Antonio painted with a vivacity and invention that was unsurpassed, often choosing to work on a small scale where extensive landscapes and lively figures served to demonstrate his virtuosity. The delicate colouring, atmospheric settings and accomplished figure-drawing in the illustrations of the Botfield Virgil radiate a charm and grace that exemplify his finest work. Movement and posture are captured with a rapid confident line, and the figures are set in a convincing relationship to spacious opalescent land- and sea-scapes. Animals are drawn with the same elegance and skill as the people. Details of armour and dress, or undress, show his concern to recreate Virgil's world as accurately as he could, using the understanding of classical art he had gained through study of cameos and sarcophagi.
His imaginative creativity is evident in both composition and subject-matter -- the illustration of the book on bee-keeping with a thieving honey-loving bear is just one example. This freshness of approach is even applied to the golden staves of the initials surrounding his scenes: the upright of the T opening the Eclogues, for example, is expanded to a golden quadrilobe that frames the encounter of Meliboeus and Tityrus, while the A introducing the Aeneid is transformed into an exotic archway revealing the view along the shoreline of Carthage. Cross-strokes are eliminated and capital I is always bisected and inflated: nothing should interrupt the view into the legendary world that he so hauntingly portrays.
The subjects of the historiated initials are as follows:
f.1 Meliboeus, the dispossessed farmer, comes across the shepherd Tityrus who sits beneath a tree, playing his pipe with his dog at his feet, the full-page border contains profile heads of Virgil and a young couple, putti and deer (Eclogues)
f.15 A ploughman behind two oxen ploughs the foreground land and looks up to a goddess, probably Minerva, who flies overhead, the three-sided border contains putti, birds, deer, a hare and a butterfly (Georgics I): illustrated in Garzelli, Miniatura fiorentina...., fig.411
f.19 The zones of the heavens, represented by a globe with segments shaded from red to white, a border in the inner margin (Georgics I, 233)
f.24 Three labourers prune vines growing over a pergola, a border in the inner margin (Georgics II)
f.33 Two youths herding an ox and a group of cows, a dog in the foreground, three birds in the border in the outer margin (Georgics III): illustrated in Garzelli, Miniatura fiorentina...., fig.412
f.42v A young man spears a bear who is stealing one beehive and has overturned two others, a border in the outer margin (Georgics IV)
f.53 Aeneas and his men land on the shores of Carthage and are greeted by Dido and her ladies in a hexagonal pavilion, a skirmish in the middle distance, a three-sided border with deer, putti and birds (Aeneid I): illustrated in Garzelli, Miniatura fiorentina...., fig.413
f.65v Feast in Dido's palace where Aeneas recounts the destruction of Troy, a border in the outer margin (Aeneid II)
f.78v Aeneas and his men on the shores of Thrace with Aeneas pulling up the myrtle steeped in the blood of Polydorus, a border in the outer margin (Aeneid III)
f.90v Dido falls on her sword and funeral pyre, a border with a bird in the outer margin (Aeneid IV)
f.102v The games in Sicily in honour of Anchises, with Aeneas and other soldiers watching the foot-race where Nisus has fallen, a border in the outer margin (Aeneid V)
f.117 Aeneas and Anchises in the underworld, standing before the stream of Lethe with Anchises indicating three naked women, perhaps the cleansed souls who are to return to earth (Aeneid VI): illustrated in Garzelli, Miniatura fiorentina...., fig.414
f.132 Aeneas leaves the underworld by the Ivory Gate, shown with flames issuing from it, and steps onto a gangplank to join his ship (Aeneid VII)
f.145v Aeneas, his ship moored by the bank of the Tiber, greeted by Pallas who gestures toward Pallanteum in the background (Aeneid VIII)
f.157v Skirmish with spear-carrying footsoldiers and pairs of horsemen riding at one another illustrating Turnus' attack on the Trojan camp (Aeneid IX)
f.171 Foot battle with Aeneas slaying Mezentius' son Lausus in the foreground (Aeneid X)
f.186 Aeneas burns Mezentius' arms on an altar at the left, on the right, Camilla runs with her hounds towards the thicket where Arruns hides and looses an arrow at her (Aeneid XI)
f.201v Aeneas delivers the death-blow to Turnus (Aeneid XII)