Italian Paleography


Chicago, Newberry Library, VAULT folio Case MS 93
Leonardo Bruni
On the First Punic War
Italy, between 1450 and 1499

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This example is taken from a lavish copy of Leonardo Bruni’s De primo bello punico, a work of Roman history describing the Roman Republic’s first war with Carthage.  It is written on fine parchment, features rubrics throughout the text, and includes elaborate decorated initials with colorful birds and sparkling gold leaf.  It would have taken a team of highly trained professionals to produce this book, likely for a wealthy customer looking to make an impressive addition to their library.

De primo bello punico _would have been a natural choice for such a patron.  Bruni, an intellectual and statesman based in Florence, was one of the most widely-celebrated Italian humanists, and today over 3,000 manuscripts and 200 printed books of his works survive from the fifteenth century.  _De primo bello punico, completed in 1422, was one of his earliest historical works.  Borrowing heavily from the Greek historian Polybius, Bruni aimed to replace the lost books of Livy’s famous history of Rome, and his book was hailed as a masterpiece while he was still writing it.  Over 160 manuscripts of the original Latin text and nearly as many of an Italian translation, which Bruni himself may have overseen, survive today.

The appeal of Bruni’s account was in part based on a sense of cultural pride typical of the Renaissance.  The work’s intent was to draw a connection between the glorious Roman past and the increasingly glorious Florentine present.  With De primo bello punico, Bruni celebrated Rome’s first efforts at imperial expansion and freely drew parallels with recent events in Florence, which had begun to expand its own political, economic, and cultural influence during his time there.  Such a celebration made this text worthy of a luxurious copy, the magnificence of which could testify to Renaissance culture’s reclamation of its classical past.


Umanistica corsiva, dal tracciato e allineamento irregolare, appena inclinata a destra.
Da notare: le aste basse (in f, p, q, s) concluse da minimo trattino (1v, r. 14: famosa reputo); la g ‘poggiana’ formata da due occhielli connessi da un tratto verticale (3r, r. 8: guerra); le maiuscole ‘all’antica’ F e M (3r, r. 4: Filino; r. 2: Marco); le iniziali capitali in oro inserite nella decorazione tipicamente umanistica ‘a bianchi girari’ (1r e 4v): intrecci vegetali bianchi ottenuti ‘a riserva’ colorando gli interstizi (blu, verde, rosso) abitati da putti e uccelli.

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Item fully digitized here.