Italian Paleography


Chicago, Newberry VAULT Case MS minus VM 140 .C25
Vincenzo Capirola
The Vincenzo Capirola Lutebook
Venice, between 1515 and 1520


Acquired by the Newberry in 1904, this manuscript is one of the most important collections of music for lute of the early 16th century. The music includes “recercares,” improvisatory-style compositions written specifically for the lute, and a number of “intabulations,” i.e. vocal pieces adapted for the instrument. Its musical notation (a so-called “Italian lute tablature”) provides a mirror image of the left-hand position on the fingerboard. The manuscript opens with an introduction that deals with tuning, playing, and interpreting the notational signs (the pages digitized on this website) and reveals its clear educational purpose.

The title Compositione di Meser Vincenzo capirola gentil homo bresano (Composition of sir Vincenzo Capirola Brescian gentleman) suggests that the repertory belonged to the lutenist Vincenzo Capirola (1474-after 1548), active in Brescia and Venice, with family ties to the small town of Leno (near Brescia). The scribe, who identifies himself as Vidal, could be the very same Vincenzo Capirola under a pen name that plays with his provenance (Vincenzo Da Leno) as well as with its meaning (“giving life” to the collection). Indeed, the illuminations of colorful flowers, plants, and animals on the first page of each composition have the function—as Vidal explicitly declares—to encourage the preservation of the book through time, suggesting that a beautifully decorated manuscript will be treasured and cared for.

—Lucia Marchi

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Item fully digitized here.