Thursday, 17 October 2013

A newly discovered leaf written by Sanvito

Much has been written about Otto Ege in the past two decades: see, for example, the articles by Barbara Shailor, ‘Otto Ege: His Manuscript Fragment Collection and the Opportunities Presented by Electronic Technology’ (2003) (available online), and by Fred Porcheddu, ‘Otto F. Ege: Teacher, Collector, Biblioclast’ (2006) (also available online), as well as the Ege project website at Denison University.

The most recent flurry of interest in Ege has been prompted by Lisa Fagin Davis’s entertaining and informative Manuscript Road Trip blog-posts here, here, here, and here (and doubtless more will follow).

Ege had a distinctive way of ruling his mounts in red ink; this image comes from the Shailor article cited above, and is also used by Fagin Davis in one of her blog-posts:


Coincidentally, a few weeks before reading her blog-post, I was looking through a collection of leaves which were waiting to be catalogued by Christie's, London, and recognised that they are in characteristic red-ruled Ege mounts.

One of the smallest leaves (c.120×80mm) in the Christie's group contains the start of the Hours of the Cross, with a rubric and incipit in elegant capitals in alternating colours:


and on its verso the continuation of the text in a fine humanistic hand with a two-line illuminated initial at the beginning of the hymn, and one-line initials alternately gold or blue at the beginnings of verses:

The script reminded me of the hand of Bartolomeo Sanvito, arguably the greatest Italian humanistic scribe (although this is not among his best work). It was an easy matter to check this initial reaction: in the magisterial monograph by Tilly de la Mare and Laura Nuvoloni, the nineteen other known leaves from the same manuscript are described in detail as no.79 on pp.276-77, attributed to Sanvito when he was in Rome in the early 1480s.

The manuscript is known to have been broken up by 1948, when James Hayes acquired some leaves from Ege, but its earlier provenance is not known.

The original text of the manuscript has always been uncertain: until recently, most leaves seemed to come from the Penitential Psalms, Litany, or Office of the Dead. In correspondence with Laura Nuvoloni as she was finishing the above monograph, I brought a previously unrecognised leaf to her attention (now at Sweet Briar College), and pointed out that not all the Psalms represented could come from the Penitential Psalms or Office of the Dead, so I suggested that it was probably a Psalter instead (Psalters usually contain a litany, and often have an Office of the Dead). The new leaf -- the only one so far discovered from the Hours of the Cross -- shows that this is not quite right, but we will have to wait for more leaves to turn up, as they undoubtledly will, to resolve the issue.

But what is especially important about the discovery of the present leaf is that it is the only one known from the volume with an historiated initial, border, and typical Sanvito rubrication in coloured capitals.

The Christie's auction will take place on 20 November; the catalogue is now available online, in which the present leaf is part of lot 46.

Edit 30 Oct. 2013:
Due to a careless slip, this text originally mentioned the Hours of the Spirit instead of the Hours of the Cross, even though the heading states 'Incipit officium sancte crucis ...' and the historiated initial depicts the Cross. Thanks to Bill Stoneman for alerting me to the error, which has now been corrected.

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