Saturday, 3 December 2022

A Breviary Written at Lucca in 1464

For a few years I have been aware of leaves of a Breviary (of which an example is shown above) which had a colophon with the name of the scribe, and the place and date of completion: Lucca on 22 December 1464. But searches for the terms BreviaryLucca, and 1464 produce surprisingly few hits for institutional websites: most of the search results are for online dealer listings. I hope this blogpost will make the manuscript better known and lead to new identifications.

I am interested in the manuscript because there are two leaves from it at Vassar College, whose collection I am in the process of cataloguing. They are very small, about 109 × 87 mm, or 4¼ × 3½ inches:

One has a pencil inscription recording its date and place of origin, as well as the fact that it was acquired from "Dawson Dec. '41" for "[$]1.-":

Probably by using the Schoenberg database (SDBM_268066), I traced the parent volume in a Sotheby's catalogue for 29 June 1938, and two following days, lot 512:
Breviarium romanum cum Calendario, MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM, 464 leaves, written in red and black, large initials in red or blue on mauve or red pen-work grounds, smaller initials in blue or red, second leaf of calendar misbound before the first and much rubbed, modern panelled calf
12mo (109 mm. by 88 mm.) Lucca, 1464

Colophon on fol. 103 verso: "Explectum est ymnarium per me presbiterum karolum de blãchis de bardono rectorẽ ad pñs ecclesie sancti bartolomei de lacuna lacane diocessis. 1o 4o 6o 4o. et 22 decembris hora decima octava.
The Schoenberg database record does not cite the Sotheby's sale directly, instead deriving its information from a secondary source, a footnote in M. Manion, V. Vines, & C. de Hamel, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in New Zealand Collections (1989), and this provided the provenance details that it was previously owned by William Ardene Shoults (1839–1887), of London, who bequeathed it to his widow, by whom in turn it was given to Selwyn College, Dunedin, New Zealand, which deaccessioned and sold it at Sotheby’s in 1938. The New Zealand catalogue concludes the manuscript's provenance with its sale in 1938 to "Marks", i.e. Marks & Co., of 84 Charing Cross Road. We can take the modern provenance a little bit further.

Dawson’s Book Shop, Los Angeles (discussed in a blogpost here), offered the manuscript as an intact volume less than two years later in their Catalogue 141: Old Books for a New Year (February 1940), no. 44, mistakenly believing it to be German: “Lucca was a Cistercian Abbey in the Diocese of Minden, once in Brunswick and now a part of Hanover”:

Apparently no customer was interested in it at the asking price of $75, and within two months it was  broken up. In Catalogue 142 (April 1940), no. 95c is “A group of five manuscript leaves” including “a dated German Breviary of 1464 […] which measures 3½ x 4¼”:
The same or another set of these five leaves were offered in Catalogue 143: Science, Philosophy, and Religion (May 1940), no. 185; and one or more leaves were offered in Catalogue no. 158: The Written Word Through Forty Centuries (October 1941), no. 56, and it is apparently from this catalogue that a leaf was bought in December 1941 by Vassar:
If all 464 leaves were sold for $1 each, Dawson's would have made more than six times as much as if they had sold the intact volume for $75.

Usually, if a dealer breaks up a manuscript with a colophon, he (it is hardly ever a she) makes sure to provide the colophon data with the single leaves, because a date, place, and scribe's name all make single leaves more attractive to collectors. This data is usually recorded by the new owners, and makes their leaves much easier to find online: if one searches for Missal, Beauvais, and 1285, for example, one is quickly led to websites describing the famous Beauvais Missal (discussed in several previous posts, e.g. here). It does not matter that the manuscript probably wasn't made in 1285; what matters is that this is the date used by owners to describe their leaves, because this is what they were told when they bought them.

I do not know why, but it seems that owners of leaves of the 1464 Lucca Breviary have generally not recorded the place and year of production in online catalogues. I am currently trying, for example, to establish the call-number of a leaf in a Canadian university library, but so far this has proved elusive because the library's catalogue does not mention the place or year of production. I know that the library has a leaf, because it was described in an article in 1989 as being "from a Roman breviary of 1464 [...] said to come from the Cistercian Abbey of Lucca [...]".

There are a couple of churches dedicated to San Bartolomeo in the vicinity of Lucca, but I have had no success in identifying the scribe "Karolum de Blanchis de Bardono, rectorem ad p(raese)ns(?) ecclesie Sancti Bartolomei de Lacuna, Lacune diocessis".


  1. Consuelo Dutschke4 December 2022 at 16:18

    • A small note: the catalogue entry for lot 512 (Sotheby’s, 29 June 1938) reads the name of the diocese as “lucane diocesis,” not “lacune diocesis” and that helps: there is no diocese named for a town called “Lacuna” but there is for the town named “Lucca,” which is what we’re been looking for.
    • A second small note: a search in (because its results are more detailed for Italy) for “lucca” and “san bartolomeo” turns up a church in the province of Lucca, just north of the town, and it’s in a small community named Cune. So could that colophon be telling us that the man who copied this breviary is currently working in the ‘church of St. Bartholomew de la Cune’ in the diocese of Lucca?
    • And a third small, possibly hopeful note: on Italian place names, for tiny little towns, I use a very handy paperback volume put out, in my case, in 1925-26 by the Touring Club Italiano, entitled Annuario Generale: it includes the names of the local garages which was why motorists in 1925-26 wanted the volume, but the reason why I want it is to look up names of towns. So the “Bardono” that the priest-owner of this book comes from is NOT in my handy Annuario, but there is a town named Bardano; it’s in the province of Perugia. Google tells me that the distance between Lucca and Perugia is 140 miles (220 km), so it’s not impossible that a priest in Lucca could come originally from Perugia.
    • Then the fourth almost impossible note: the papers of Dawson’s Book Shop, 1910-1950, are held by the UCLA Special Collections Library; would there be a handy little file for this manuscript, telling us the destination home of each leaf sold out of this book?
    • Upshot of this all: it sure would be nice to see that colophon and check all kinds of spellings in a transcription. Liturgical books are the very least common books to have colophons, esp. one as full this one is: scribe’s name, profession, place of origin (maybe), place where he currently works, the diocese of his church, the date when he finished with day, month and year; extraordinary! Thank you for setting out the fascinations of this little book, this one little book, that is so proud of itself.
    Consuelo Dutschke

    1. Many thanks for all this! Taking you points in turn:
      -- I have now corrected Lacune/Lacane. I am a bit sceptical of the Sotheby's transcription because of "diocessis".
      -- I very much like your "de la Cune" suggestion! If the church was in Lucca itself, it seemed unnecessary to mention the diocese.
      -- I had found the "Bardano" in Umbria, but wasn't confident enough to mention it, especially as the New Zealand catalogue 'corrects' the spelling to "Bordone".
      -- The Dawson's papers at UCLA are already on my "to do list" for my next visit to LA!
      -- Yes, I hope the colophon leaf will emerge now that more people are aware of the MS ...

  2. I am surprised to see that I was the one who created the entry (SDBM_268066) in the Schoenberg Database, especially as I cannot now remember why! My personal notes tell me that I was working on a New Zealand problem, but I don't recall what it was. I am relieved, however, to see that I did do what one is supposed to do and created the record using the source in front of me. The temptation is to create a record using the information in the source, in this case for the Sotheby's sale of 29 June 1938, lot no. 512. But since you thoughtfully provide an image of the sale entry, I can do that now. And also for two of the four entries in the Dawson's Bookshop catalogues for which you provide images. I can then create a SDBM_MS record for the manuscript and one of the records (based on Dawson's Catalogue 142) will document that the manuscript is now broken up.
    Many thanks as always.
    Bill Stoneman



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