Saturday, 4 October 2014

More on the Psalter and Passion Sequences written by Pietro Ursuleo of Capua

In a previous post I wrote about the dismembered Psalter and Passion Sequences written by the humanistic scribe Pietro Ursuleo of Capua.

I have recently found a description of the book when it was still intact.

Until now, the earliest known record of any of the leaves has been the acquisition in 1916 of two leaves by C.L. Ricketts of Chicago:
de Ricci, Census, I, p.623
The de Ricci provenance is slightly ambiguous: he seems to suggest that the 2 leaves were no.81 in a Tregaskis catalogue at an unknown date; and were later acquired by Ricketts in London in 1916 from an unidentified seller, who offered them for sale as no.777 in an unidentified catalogue.

I have now found that a detailed description of the complete book was published just a few years earlier, in 1913:
This appears in Tregaskis catalogue No.743, issued in June 1913, entitled The Browning Collections: Catalogue of Autograph Letters and Manuscripts, Books and Works of Art, Formerly the Property of the Late R.W. Barrett Browning, Esq. ... also Rare Books and Manuscripts from Other Sources ...:

The fact that the manuscript was in a catalogue dominated by the unrelated Browning materials perhaps suggests that Tregaskis had acquired it very recently, and was taking the first opportunity to offer it for sale.

In the hope of finding out precisely when Tregaskis acquired the manuscript, and when they broke it up, I looked through the (incomplete) run of their catalogues from 1913 to 1916 held by the British Library. During this period Tregaskis issued catalogues at approximately monthly intervals, e.g.:
No.737: 17 Feb. 1913
[No.738: missing]
No.739: 31 Mar. 1913
No.740: 21 Apr. 1913
[No.741: missing]
[No.742: missing]
No.743: 9 June 1913

There is no trace the the volume in the catalogues preceding 9 June 1913, which suggests that Tregaskis may have acquired it shortly before this date (although it may have been in one of the catalogues missing from the BL set).

Leaves do not appear in the surviving catalogues until catalogue No.777 in 1916 (doubtless issued in February, as No.776 is dated 10 January 1916; No.778 is also just dated "1916"; and no.779 is dated 3 April 1916).

In catalogue no.777 the following is the description of item 81:
"81. Psalter. Four pages, 6¾ by 5 in., on vellum, from an Italian 15th century Psalter, beautifully written in Roman letters, with gold and blue capitals, and initials in blue, red, green, and gold. 15/-"
Thus the de Ricci provenance reproduced above for the Ricketts leaves seems to have garbled a single sale reference (i.e. Tregaskis catalogue no.777, item no.81, London, 1916) into two.

Interestingly, I did not find any other leaves of this manuscript in any of Catalogue nos.765–780, covering January 1915 to May 1916 inclusive, of which the BL only lacks no.767, for [April] 1915.

The June 1913 description provides several previously-unknown pieces of information, which can be compared to what is known of the surviving leaves, and the companion volume at Trinity College, Cambridge:
  • "Incipit liber hymnorum vel soliloquiorum prophete David de Christo lege"
    • The presence of "lege" at the end is an unusual addition (perhaps an error by the cataloguer, not the scribe) to an otherwise fairly common heading; here is a comparable example:
    • Source
      [Edit, 5 Oct. 2014:] The Cambridge volume also includes the word "lege":
    Cambridge, Trinity College, MS O.7.46, fol.11r
  • "on 169 leaves of vellum"
    • The Cambridge volume has almost exactly the same number of leaves: 167.
  • "6¾ by 5¼ ins."
    • This is equivalent to about 170×132mm; when the single leaves were measured by Tregaskis a few years later the width was a ¼ inch narrower (see above); the Vermont leaf is reported to be 170×128mm; in the New Zealand catalogue the dimensions of leaves are given as 172×127mm (Maragret Manion, et al., Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in New Zealand Collections (Melbourne, 1989), p.100–1).
  • "some of the margins being mended"
    • This could possibly support the hypothesis that the book had been involved in the Jarman flood (see below) and required repair.
  • "with two series of initials, the larger set historiated with figures and having lateral border decorations"
    • This describes what we know from the ex-Maggs leaf:
  • "the smaller set in gold, on varicoloured grounds of interlacing ornament"
    • This describes the white-vine initials that accompany the Evangelist miniatures:
  • "a full-page miniature (somewhat damaged) of the Stem of Jesse opens the volume"
    • This information is new and unexpected. The full-page Tree of Jesse must presumably have faced the beginning of Psalm 1, unless it was itself a Beatus page. A full-page Jesse Tree faces the start of the Psalms in Baltimore, Walters, MS. W.330, a Psalter of similar date and place of origin:
  • "there are richly illuminated miniatures of the four Evangelists, these and the historiated initials having diapered grounds of great richness and beauty"
    • While the known historiated initial (see above) does not have a diaper ground, this description fits well with the known Evangelist miniatures (see top of this page), and with the Cambridge volume:
  • "In old Italian calf, with gilt panel design on sides, and old flowered linings"
    • The description is detailed enough, and the decoration extensive enough, to suggest that Tregaskis's attribution to Italy is correct.
  • "Signed at the end; 'Petrvs Vrsvlevs script.'
    • The colophon leaf exists in the national Library of Australia, but apparently no image of it has been published.
  • "The contents include the Psalms, certain Hymns, Litany of the Saints, and the Passion of Christ"
    • This corresponds closely with the volume in Cambridge, described by M.R. James as having some psalms which "Beatus Hilarius abstraxit ... de psalterio ..."; a list of psalms for the days of the week; a Calendar; Psalter; Canticles; Litany; Passion according to each of the four Gospels; and colophon "Petrus Ursuleus de Capua scripsit".
  • "On the fly-leaf is an inscription to the effect that the spendid old Hymnal was once in the family of the 'Prince Lardenia'"
    • I have not been able to trace any Prince Lardenia. I wonder if the catalogue has read the inscription and/or perhaps misunderstood a reference to Sardinia: it would not be surprising if a manuscript had made its way there from Naples.
By comparison with other surviving leaves and the Cambridge volume it is clear that there would have been 8 large historiated initials at the usual divisions of the Psalms, and a white-vine accompanying each of the four evangelist miniatures.

The surprising absence of a calendar (unlike the Cambridge volume) potentially lends support to the proposal in Manion et al., that the volume was the one recorded in the sale of the Jarman library at Sotheby's, 13 June 1864, lot 161, [which was bought by the bookseller Boone].

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