Italian Paleography


Chicago, Newberry Library, VAULT Case MS 129
Domenico Cavalca
The Mirror of the Cross
Italy, between 1425 and 1450

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A near contemporary of Dante, Domenico Cavalca (ca. 1270-1342) ranks among the finest prose stylists of the early fourteenth century.  He spent almost his entire life in Pisa, where he entered the Dominican monastery of S. Caterina, probably in the late 1280s.  This house was famously dedicated to the preaching mission of the Dominican order.  Within that mission, Cavalca specialized in translations of Latin devotional works into Tuscan vernacular.  This sort of literature allowed devout lay men and women to read (and often to own) copies of meditative works that reinforced the messages of oral preaching.  Cavalca’s works were extremely popular, and we know (from dated or datable manuscripts) that they were copied almost continually from his lifetime up to and beyond the introduction of printing in Italy.  From 1474 to 1500 there were no fewer than sixty-two printed editions of his works.  The present manuscript contains his most popular work, the Specchio di croce.  More than one hundred manuscripts and twenty-eight printed editions of this text are known; most of the manuscript copies, like this one, date from the early fifteenth century.  The original text was probably an abbreviated version of a cycle of Passion sermons adapted for reading privately or aloud in a group.

The Newberry copy survives in a contemporary or near contemporary binding of leather over cardboards, with an early ownership or shelf mark “P” on the cover.  It originally consisted of fourteen gatherings of which thirteen survive.  In order to mask the missing gathering, a late nineteenth- or early twentieth-century owner (perhaps a book dealer) added a false colophon ascribing the writing to a Sienese “Master Guido” whose existence was noted by J. W. Bradley in 1889.


Gotica. Scrittura posata ricca di elementi della corsiva, priva di contrasto, con aste slanciate e filetti di completamento.
Da notare; la a corsiva (7v, r. 1: senza); la d sempre tonda (3v, r. 1: del); la g di matrice corsiva con ampio occhiello inferiore aperto (7v, r. 2: gloria); la z coriva in forma di 3 che scende sotto il rigo (3v, r. 26: somiglia(n)za).

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