Italian Paleography


Chicago, Newberry Library, VAULT Case MS 219
Domenico Cavalca
Lives of the Fathers
Milan or Pavia, between 1460 and 1480

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This very small, “pocket” manuscript (100 x 132 mm) contains excerpts from a large work of Italian translation known as Vite dei santi padri composed by the Pisan friar, Domenico Cavalca around 1330.  Much of the material translated from Latin into the vernacular is from a collection of lives and sayings of the saints that circulated in Latin under the general title, “Lives of the Fathers” (Vitae sanctorum patri).  These are sometimes known as the “desert” fathers, the first of which was Paul of Thebes, who went into the desert during the persecution of the Roman emperor, Decius, and eventually embraced the life of extreme asceticism, which inspired first St. Anthony and then many other men and women.  In Cavalca’s compilation the lives of women are collected in the fourth book, one of which, the life of Euphrosina, begins the collection preserved in this manuscript.  It is followed here by a selection of lives, miracles, and sayings from the third and fourth parts of the Vite dei santi padri and then by the longer lives of Abraham the Hermit, Paul of Thebes, and Anthony of Egypt.  These lives were influential on European monasticism generally, but particularly on the mendicant reform movements of the thirteenth century.  Dominicans were keenly interested in curating the lives and sayings of saints because of their usefulness as examples or models (exempla) in preaching, which was their particular calling.  Moreover, in this project of vernacularization, Cavalca and his collaborators at the monastery of St. Catherine in Pisa put their efforts into rendering this material directly accessible to lay readers, men and women, in their immediate vicinity.  In his prologue, not copied in this manuscript, which contains only a fraction of the entire work, Cavalca described his target audience as the simple and uneducated in Latin (huomini semplici et non licterati).  He also acknowledged that he had to expand the text in order to explain certain things or render what is more succinctly able to be expressed in the original as well as to omit the elegant proems to many of the works since they were intended for learned monks, rather than illiterate townspeople.  Originally composed in Pisan, it was almost immediately translated into Florentine.  Cavalca’s prose has been praised by scholars as foundational for the Italian language, some decades before that of Boccaccio, who was also a reader of the Vite dei santi padri
-Alison Cornish


Gotica, formale, contrastata ma non compressa lateralmente, interlinea spaziosa e aste sviluppate.
Da notare: r tonda anche in posizione non corretta (76r, r. 12: martiri); u/v angolare in inizio di parola (76r, r. 15: vedendo); z in forma di 3 che scende sotto il rigo (76v, r. 14: graveza).

Selected Bibliography:

Item fully digitized here.