Italian Paleography


Chicago, Newberry Library, VAULT Case MS 4A 23
Ferdinando Belardi
Treatise on the Tuscan Language
Matera, between 1700 and 1799


This document is a manuscript book on paper, written in a cursive hand sometime in the 18th century. It is a treatise on the Tuscan language, with sections on grammar, orthography, and the use of vocabulary. The title page states that the book was written in Matera by Doctor Francesco Belardi. The introductory page has a heading in large script, with very pronounced ascenders and descenders and some heavier points of ink saturation at the beginning and end of individual letters; the hand becomes a bit smoother in the smaller body text. The flourished ascenders and descenders of the cursive hand persist throughout the book; overall the hand provides a relatively clear reading experience, and the pages have evenly ruled lines.

Belardi begins with reflections on “words in general, articles, and prepositions” in Book One of his treatise, and refers to Tuscan language as “the Florentine vernacular.” He discusses how in Florence—“the city of erudition”—no one is teaching the fundamentals of the Tuscan language, so young students are bound to never study it or to study it by themselves, with all the problems that such lack of structure entails. What is even more troublesome to Belardi is that this lack of guidance not only results in impoverishment of knowledge of the language, but also that its contents risk being misunderstood or “corrupted.” Belardi further laments that while teachers of the Tuscan language are scarce, there is an abundance of “foreigners” teaching their own languages, enabling these “other” languages to outpace Tuscan’s reputation. This section of the introduction ends with Belardi listing those writers who “gave a time, or principle, or splendor” to the Italian tongue in the Due-Trecento, including (among others) Guittone, Guinizzelli, Cavalcanti, and two Dantes—not just Dante Alighieri, but Dante Damaiano, who was also a poet and an older contemporary of the far more famous Alighieri. Belardi’s treatise follows a long tradition of treatises and dialogues concerning models and uses of Italian vernacular language(s), which reached its peak in the Cinquecento with the publication of Bembo’s Prose della volgar lingua (1525), but dates back to the early Trecento and continues through to today (on the questione della lingua, see Treccani).

—Alexandra Thomas

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Corsiva (sec. XVIII) professionale, ricca di elementi decorativi, priva quasi di abbreviazioni.
Da notare: lo slancio delle aste basse in f e s (1r, r. 25: forestieri)il legamento str (1r, r. 9: nostra); la doppia z con ultimo tratto ricurvo (1r, r. 18: insozzate).
—Maddalena Signorini

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Item fully digitized here.