Italian Paleography


Chicago, Newberry VAULT Case MS 75.1
Feo Becari
Sacred Poems
Florence, between 1450 and 1499

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Ms. 75.1 is a parchment codex of forty-four folios, measuring 218 x 148 mm, with signs of water damage and restoration. Written with the same hand throughout, it lacks pages at the beginning, in the middle of the first gathering, between c. 24 and c. 25, and at the end; the missing folios are not reflected in the pagination. The first section of the manuscript (cc. 1-37) contains twenty-seven laude by Feo Belcari (1410-84), a Florentine poet who specialized in this genre of devotional poetry, which was often sung by lay confraternities at weekly gatherings, at Mass, and in processions. Ms. 75.1 shares its content and features with other manuscripts of Belcari’s laude, for example Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale, Magl. vii.1163 and Biblioteca Mediceo-Laurenziana, Redi 121, and it is thus part of a larger corpus copied in Florence in the latter part of the fifteenth century. Like the other collections, Ms. 75.1 does not contain any written music, although it implies sung performance by means of the ‘cantasi come’ (‘to be sung like’) rubrics added at the end of each lauda. The musical references are to a vast array of repertory. For example, the lauda Giammai laudarti quanto degna sei (c. 11v) employs music by the internationally known composer Gilles Binchois. The Evangelio delle Beatitudini exposto (cc. 9-11v) is a poetic elaboration of the Gospel Sermon on the Mount, as cast in the form of the Italian ballata (refrain and stanzas). Its ‘cantasi come’ rubric (at c. 11v: “cantasi come evangeli di quaresima et come pianger con maria”) calls for two musical models, neither of them preserved: the Evangeli di Quaresima (The Gospels of Lent), another poetic exposition of the Gospel readings for that season by Castellano di Pierozzo Castellani (1462-ca. 1519), which shares its metrical structure with the Evangelio, and the otherwise unknown Piangete con Maria, probably another lauda well-known at the time.

The second section of the codex (cc. 38-44v) contains nine sonnets by Belcari and some by his poetic correspondents (see above, Authors).

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