Italian Paleography


Chicago, Newberry VAULT Case MS 5A 46
Francesco di Ser Nicolao Angelio
Memorial and Account Book of the Angelio Family
Barga, between 1547 and 1580

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Newberry Library VAULT Case MS 5A 46 is best described as a “liber memorialia,” or book of memories. Initially, such a classification might seem to imply that one can only glean a narrow view of one person’s recollections of their own lived experiences. Upon re-examination, however, many details of early modern Italy emerge from this manuscript memory book. The first page, for example, begins in a standard format invoking the name of God and Christ written in a humanist cursive. The author, Francesco di Ser Nicolao Angelio, goes on to write that subsequent pages contain his memories and that he “wrote them with his own hand.” Much of what follows is a standard assemblage of debits, credits, and quotidian activities of a sixteenth-century merchant. Reading through the various entries, a modern reader is able to ascertain what was bought and sold, to whom, for how much, and trade network(s) Francesco used.

This book and other memory books thus physically encode geo-temporal data through the inclusion of dates and locations. Francesco’s recollections in this particular manuscript end abruptly on 18 February 1580 with the author’s last entry. In the twentieth century, an unknown person from Barga, the city in which Francesco lived, used a death announcement from 24 December 1924 to create a table of contents, which includes various late-medieval and early modern abbreviations (e.g., qs̄to for questo), for the Liber Memorialia and left it tucked inside the book.

When one compares this book to others in the Newberry Collection, such as the book of Pepo degli Albizzi, it does not seem particularly impressive. However, close examination affords a brief glimpse into the life of an early modern Tuscan merchant. Francesco’s book of memories functions somewhat like a treasured family history: it includes both the mundane and the extraordinary. Additionally, ephemera included as part of this book, such as the twentieth-century table of contents, provide clues as to what happened at particular moments in time between the object’s creation and when it entered the Newberry’s collection.

Selected Bibliography:

Item fully digitized here.