Saturday, 23 January 2016

Donato and Ercole de Silva

When cataloguing the pre-1500 manuscripts of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia recently, I needed to identify the owner of an Italian ink-stamp, in a copy of Macer, De virtutibus herbarum, in the form of a seal with the legend "COMES DONATUS SILUA":
and so I was pleased to discover that two of the standard reference books are available online:

Achille Bertarelli, Gli ex libris italiani, Milan, 1902:

and Jacopo Gelli, 3500 ex libris italiani, Milan, 1908:

(Although the much more extensive Bragaglia, Gli ex libris italiani ... (3 vols, 1993) is not online, it actually provides far less biographical information about the de Silvas, and the two works that are online were more than enough to get me started).

In the College of Physicians manuscript, the ink stamp occurs below an inscription that I could not fully read, so I posted it to CERL's "Can you help?" page (and so far, apparently, no one else has been able to read it either [1]):
Philadelphia, College of Physicians, MS 10a.159

The first line is clearly "M.S. Sæc. XV.", but only parts of the second line are legible to me at present:

The same stamp and the same inscription occur in University of San Francisco, Leonard Library, De Bellis La.1, as I found on Digital Scriptorium:
The writing is by the same hand as the Philadelphia one, but the formation of some individual letters is slightly different; in Philadelphia there is no space between the first two letters, for example, and the letter after the second "e" is far less obviously an "s":
and the last letter of the second word is more clearly an "e":

Digital Scriptorium also provides information and images about some other manuscripts with a similar ink-stamp, but with "Hercules" instead of "Donatus": these include Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Ms. Codex 256:
and Cambridge, Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Richardson 41:
(a selection of images of this manuscript are available via Digital Scriptorium, and complete digitization via Harvard's Page Delivery Service).

We can find out a bit about both Donato (1690-1779) and his nephew Ercole (1756-1840) in the two online reference books cited above:
If you click through and read the full text of which I have provided only extracts above, you learn that Donato kept his library at his villa at Cinisello, where he also founded Lombardy's first botanic garden, later inherited by Ercole (who shared his uncle's interest in horticulture, publishing Dell' arte dei giardini inglesi in 1801):

You also learn that there is a Cinisello library catalogue. In fact there are several catalogues, available  online. 

Another online catalogue also has 1811 as the apparent date of publication:

but this online version is in fact composed of several parts, dated 1811, 1810, and 1812, respectively, with three series of pagination as well as an unpaginated section:
  • (pp.1-198) Catalogo de' libri della biblioteca Silva in Cinisello, Monza, 1811 (the image above); the entries are unnumbered; mainly in alphabetical sequence by author, but under "A" is a heading "Anonimi" arranged under sub-headings from "Agricoltura"  to "Viaggi"
  • (pp.199-205) "Supplemento al Catalogo de' libri della biblioteca Silva in Cinisello"
  • (pp.207-10) "Aggiunto al Supplemento al Catalogo de' libri"
  • (pp.211-12) "Aggiunto al Supplemento"
  • (pp.1-73) Nota delle edizioni del XV secolo, e di antichi manoscritti, o moderni inediti della biblioteca Silva in Cinisello presso Milano, Monza, 1810; nos.1-484
  • (pp.75-164) Supplemento alla Nota delle edizioni del XV secolo ... presso Milano, Monza, 1812; nos.485-970
  • (pp.165-66) "Errata"
  • (pp.167-68) "Annotazioni"
  • (pp.171-80) "Supplemento all edizione del XV secolo", nos.971-1017
  • (pp.181-94) "Altra aggiunta al Supplemento", nos.1018-1100
  • [14 pp.] a table of prices or valuations (no.102 has the highest figure: 3,000 lire), preceded by a note which begins "Le edizioni del XV. secolo hano un intrinseco merito per essere sate con ogni sorta di studio ..."
  • (pp.I-VIII) "Nota de' manoscritti", nos 1-77
The second section is mainly a catalogue of incunabula. Among them no.102--which we noted above had the highest valuation--is incorrectly identified (as Eric White at Princeton kindly informs me) as a Gutenberg Bible. Within this section are also a considerable number of medieval manuscripts, among which we can identify the College of Physicians copy of Macer, De virtutibus herbarum:

While in the list of manuscripts in the very last section we can perhaps identify the the Penn manuscript as no.17:

I haven't been able to identify Houghton Library's Boccaccio manuscript (MS Richardson 41), but perhaps it was acquired between the 1810-12 publication of the catalogues, and Ercole's death in 1840.

The Cinisello library was sold by Ercole's heirs in 1869. The auction catalogue seems to be very rare: the only copies listed on Worldcat are both at the Grolier Club, New York. According to the Schoenberg Database, the Harvard manuscript was lot 284 in the auction, and Barbara Bieck of the Grolier Club kindly sent me images to confirm this:
Image courtesy of The Grolier Club of New York
Here is the Harvard Baccaccio:
Image courtesy of The Grolier Club of New York
And here is the College of Physicians Macer:
Image courtesy of The Grolier Club of New York

[1] Postscript
After writing this blog post Martin Davies (who had read my CERL plea for help, but was unable to respond directly on the CERL website) kindly got in touch with me to direct me to a description of another manuscript owned by Donato Silva, with the same inscription:
As he wrote:
"it is signed by D. Coelest.s L'orefice Bened.nus, i.e. the Sicilian Benedictine Celestino L'Orefice (da Modica, where the chocolate comes from). There's quite a lot about him in Google books etc -- fl. 1721 from one source."
Indeed, Googling finds this biographical summary:
This identification also allows us to realise the significance of an entry in the de Silva catalogues, which, in the 1811 edition, fortuitously occurs next to the description of the Philadelphia Macer manuscript:


  1. Great post! I was looking for information on this very manuscript of Macer, and I never imagined to find this treasure trove of provenance information. Do you know if more images of this manuscript are available online or at the College of Physicians? Thanks for any advice.

  2. John Lancaster has kindly written to say:

    Other copies of the 1869 catalogue are at Yale and the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The Grolier Club copies are not easy to find, as their catalogue record omits the first two words of the title, and there is no reference to Silva in the record - only "Sylva" (from the pencil note on the title of one copy).

  3. Peter, as we discussed yesterday, Wellesley College has a Dante ms. that was owned by Donatus Silva. It is P1035 ( If you follow the link in the catalog, you will see that it is digitized. The 1811 catalog of the Silva library does not list this. However it is listed for sale in the Paris catalog of 1869. I am searching for more information about how it got into Silva's library because the earliest owners were the heirs of the scribe, who finished writing it while a prisoner in Verona. I know a lot about him and his heirs, but I am trying to piece together what happened to it before Silva obtained it. Any suggestions?


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