De officiis. Illuminated manuscript on vellum.   [Florence, c. 1425-35].  

CICERO Marcus Tullius


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Three illuminated white-vine initials (fols. 1r, 32v and 52r), up to 12 lines high, in highly burnished gold with elaborate white vine-stems shaded in yellow infilled in purple and olive green on a blue ground heightened by white dots, a wreath of similar white-vine decoration on lower margin of fol. 1r with the illuminated Riario arms added.   

Size: 262 by 195mm. 78 leaves (in gatherings of 10 leaves, last of 8), complete; with horizontal catchwords, 27 lines, pricked and ruled in plummet, text begins above top line, written-space c.173 mm. by 106 mm., written in dark brown ink in a small semi-gothic script which develops into a full formal humanistic hand by the end of the book, headings in red, 3-line initials alternately in red and blue, interlinear and marginal annotations by the scribe becoming sparser after fol. 25 and ceasing after fol. 56r. Bound in 20th century limp vellum.  

A handsome manuscript of one of the classical texts most highly regarded in the fifteenth century, following the rediscovery of Cicero by the Italian humanists between the 1390s and 1420s. It is a comprehensive discussion on justice, wisdom, fortitude, temperance and the practice of virtue, imbued with Stoic thought. It has had immense influence and was the first work of any classical author to be printed (Mainz, Fust and Schoeffer, 1465). One critic has described it as “the source in great measure of European notions of what becomes a gentleman”.  

The manuscript’s provenance can be traced back to the fifteenth century:   1.Cardinal Raffaello Riario (1451-1521) or his uncle Cardinal Pietro Riario (1446-1474), both notable bibliophiles, with the illuminated Riario arms (or on a chief azure a rose of the first) added on fol. 2r and repeated in ink with a cardinal’s hat on fol. 78r.   2.Filippo Strozzi (1488-1538): his inscription on fol. 1v “Hic liber est philippi stroze amicorumque”, probably Filippo Strozzi who married Clarice, daughter of Piero de’ Medici, niece of Leo X and aunt of Catherine de Medici. He was a humanist who translated works of Polybius and Plutarch from Greek into Italian. The Riario arms on fol. 2r have been amended to include the three crescents of Strozzi with the palle of the Medici arms. The later (nineteenth-century) Strozzi library stamp with motto “Expecto” and an eagle surmounted by a crown is also on fol. 2r. The manuscript is almost certainly the untraced Cicero, De officiis, no. 507 in the Indice Generale di tutti i libri         manoscritti in foglio della Libreria Strozziana (now Florence, Bibl. Nazionale Centrale, Cl.X 163).   3.Lorenzo Strozzi (1482-1549), Filippo’s brother, his erased inscription on fol.1r which reads “Hic liber est Laurentii f... de strozii et amicorum”. A politician and a man of letters, among other things he wrote a life of his brother Filippo (published by Graevius in Leiden in Thesaurus antiquitatum et historiarum Italiae, VII, 1704-25). From 1533 he lived in the famous Palazzo Strozzi, commissioned by his father Filippo in 1489 from the leading Florentine architect Benedetto da Maiano (1442-1497) and completed only in 1539.   Later owners include: Federico Patetta (1867-1945), writer and Professor of the History of Law in Turin, with notes by him on the flyleaf; his MS.57; Edward A. Parsons (1878-1962) of New Orleans, MS.3 (acquired from Paul Gottschalk); sale Sotheby, 8 December 1975, lot 61; the collection of the British Rail Pension Fund; sold by them in 1988 to Sir John Paul Getty, jr.; J.R. Ritman, his sale Sotheby’s 6 July 2000, lot 15.    

The style of the bianchi girari in the illuminated initials is typical of Florence. It was developed in the early fifteenth century by Florentine artists from Carolingian manuscripts and used especially in the decoration of manuscripts of classical texts. The colour palette of the blue, deep purple and olive green infilling and the touches of brownish shading of the white-vine stems point to the late 1420s and early 1430s. The Riario provenance is an intriguing one, for another copy of this same text, with the Riario arms, was copied by Bartolomeo Sanvito in 1495 (see Sotheby, 14 June 1954, lot 37; now Victoria and Albert Museum, MS.L.1609-1954). The question, then, is whether the present copy - from his patron’s library - served as Sanvito’s exemplar.

Some light thumbing or staining here and there, but generally in excellent condition

Stock Code: 228093

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