Italian Paleography


Chicago, Newberry Library, Wing MS ZW 1 .45
Collection of Vernacular Prose and Verse
Italy, around 1450

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During the first half of the fifteenth century, the aftermath of the Black Death (1347-1351) and the subsequent social and political instabilities had a considerable impact on the imagination and memories of European society.  Probably between 1415 and 1450, an anonymous Benedictine friar wrote two related texts in Latin about the ars moriendi, the art of dying well according to Christian precepts and protocols.  These essays were a considerable success: hundreds of copies were printed before 1501, including translations in most European vernacular languages.  Two versions of the Ars moriendi circulated.  A longer one contains six chapters devoted to the following topics: an exhortation not to be afraid of death because dying also has positive sides (1), a list of the temptations of a dying man (2), questions to be asked to a dying man (3), an exhortation to imitate Christ’s life (4), suggestions to friends and family on appropriate prayers (6), and how to behave (5).  A shorter version of the Ars moriendi only discusses the different types of temptations a dying man would likely face.

Newberry manuscript Wing ZW 1 .45 contains an Italian vernacular copy of the longer version of the ars moriendi, also known as “tractato” (f.1r), together with five poems dedicated to the Virgin Mary, including an extract from Dante’s Paradiso 33 (vv.1-21 and 28-30) and a transcription of Petrarch’s canzone “Vergine bella” (cc.52r-55r).  This highly redacted version of the Fragmenta’s closing canzone contains numerous significant variants and missing verses (vv.81-82), if we compare it to Petrarch’s partial autograph Vaticano Latino 3195, and its manuscript and print tradition.  The presence of Dante’s and Petrarch’s poetry in the text testifies to a diffusion of these canonical texts beyond the boundaries of their original contexts (Dante’s Commedia or Petrarch’s Rerum vulgarium fragmenta) and to how different historical and cultural settings transmitted, used, and adapted them.


Gotica tarda priva di contrasto e di compressione laterale, dal modulo e dalla realizzazione non omogenea.
Da notare: la d con asta orizzontale (1r, r. 4: de); l’uso di r tonda anche in posizione iniziale o non corretta (52v, r. 2: terra; r. 3: regna); l’uso alternativo di ç o z in forma di 3 (53r, r. 2: alegreça; r. 15: lazi).

Selected Bibliography:

Item fully digitized here.