Italian Paleography


Chicago, Newberry VAULT Case MS 92.5
Humanistic Miscellany
Italy, between 1450 and 1499


The Humanistic Miscellany is a collection of copies of letters, treatises, and poems in Italian and Latin from the second half of the 15th century. The unidentified poem depicted here from f. 35v is written in Italian in a humanistic cursive media script. There are three main hands, with the second hand beginning on folio 43 verso and the third on folio 66 recto. The book is made of parchment pages, and the binding is stamped calfskin (also 15th century), featuring a decorative rope motif and two repaired clasps. The most noticeable feature of folio 35 verso, featured here, is the large ‘S’ initial: there is a white vine stem twined around it outlined in a brilliant blue, with pink and green shading in the curlicues. The decoration also includes buds and flowers sprouting from the vine, which reaches from nearly the top of the page almost to the halfway point. The ink is light brown and beautifully neat and easy to read; the spacing and saturation of the first letters of some of the lines suggest that they were perhaps written in at a different point than the rest of the script.

The poem transcribed on ff. 35v-43r is about the Virgin Mary, and the immaculate birth and the glory of Christ. It speaks of God’s eternal love, the singing of His immense praise, and Mary’s beauty and goodness. There are classical references throughout, which would have been typical of a humanist poet: the author speaks of Muses, Phoebus, and Orpheus as he describes Mary and her selection by God. The poem is a good reminder that although the humanists of the period were invested in writing flawless Latin and discovering original manuscripts from the ancient world, as well as learning what they could from the Greeks and Romans in order to augment and direct their own education, they were also faithful Christians. In other words, they often deployed classical themes even as they turned their linguistic skillsets to praising the Christian God, whom they believed ultimately responsible for man’s ability to be virtuous.

—Alexandra Thomas

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Umanistica corsiva di buona esecuzione, regolare, appena inclinata a destra.
Da notare: la a di tipo corsivo (35v, r. 1: mai); la d occasionalmente tonda (35v, r. 8: degno); la g ‘poggiana’ formata da due occhielli connessi da un tratto verticale (35v, r. 1: priego); il falso legamento ct (35v, r. 20: sancto).
—Maddalena Signorini

Selected Bibliography:

Item fully digitized here.