Paduan doctoral degree diploma, illuminated manuscript on vellum.

DIPLOMA  (1641)


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Latin manuscript on vellum [8 leaves], opening with frontispiece oval portrait of degree recipient Benedetto Musalo to recto of first leaf, within floral border of blue foliage and rosebuds, verso with portrait of Madonna and Child enclosed in ornamental arabesque frame and floral border, text in manuscript beginning on f2r with names and initials illuminated in gold, all within wide, historiated floral border also containing birds, camels and mythical figures with wings and tails, remaining leaves within floral border, final leaf with lavish, full-page illustration of a snake and parrot, signed by the illuminator-scribe. 

4to [250 x 180mm]. Contemporary Venetian binding of red morocco, covers elaborately tooled in gilt with repeating small tools and motifs, central lozenge containing large oval surrounded by petal-like gilt ornament, cornerpieces of similar design using the same tool, contained within border of repeating pattern of oval, circular and floral stamps, outer border of repeating foliate tool, custom red morocco slipcase, lettered in gilt on spine (four holes in upper and lower boards for silk ties, now lacking, wear to extremities, morocco a little rubbed). 


A handsome, illuminated doctoral degree certificate from the university of Padova, with a highly unusual and skilfully executed advertisement for the illuminator's services on the final leaf; and an interesting testament to the career of a Scottish jurist in Italy in the early seventeenth century. 

The recipient of the degree, a doctorate in 'iuris utriusque', canon and civil law, is 20-year-old Benedetto Musalo, who is depicted with piercing gaze and sombre, scholarly attire, in a portrait on the recto of the first leaf (the title to the portrait provides his age). The text, opening on the second leaf, describes the process by which Musalo attained his degree, and begins by naming the senior representatives of the church and conferring university, namely Antonio Martinengo, Padovan prelate and apostolic protonotary, and Luca Stella, archbishop (who died five months after Musalo was awarded his degree).

Interestingly, a Scottish jurist, Henry Lindsay, is named here - 'D. Henrici Lindesaii Nobilis Scoti Alme. Universitatis' - under whose aegis the law degree is awarded, and through whom Martinengo and Stella act. Lindsay 'in June 1639 was admitted to the law school at Padua and, in August 1640, became a vice rector and syndic of the English and Scottish Nations at the university for one year' (Brochard, p.45); thus, at the time that the present degree was awarded, Lindsay was reaching the end of his tenure. Lindsay's arms can still be found adorning the original university building in Padova, with the inscription 'We students of law have dedicated this to the good memory of that noble Scotsman Vice Rector Henry Lindsay, a man with few peers, in honour of whose industry and ability our Venetian government first granted that henceforth vice rectors should be distinguished by a laurel wreath in the same manner as lords and noble persons' (Brochard, p.45). Lindsay's is one of several Scottish coats of arms found there (Steuart, p.56); Scottish students had begun to attend the famously international university soon after its foundation in the thirteenth century onwards, and by the early sixteenth century constituted one of the many 'nations' of the student body, with its own rector (other nations included English, German, Polish, Provençal, Burgundian, Spanish and 'Ultramontane' i.e. Cypriot and Greek; see Grendler). 

This quarto format with its elaborate binding and illumination is typical of degrees awarded from northern Italian universities, particularly the prestigious Padova, between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries. The text and format are relatively formulaic, and by this period there were some 'standard' decorative features too, like the inclusion of the recipient's portrait (Brizzi, 283). However, even then, as these documents were commissioned by the graduating student according to their taste and budget, each certificate was unique. 

Especially striking and unusual here is the large, full-page illustration on the final leaf. A bird clasps in its talons and beak a serpent which encircles it, surrounded on all sides with lustrous foliage, flowers and grapes, and some insects, all in greens, blues, pinks and reds. Below, two storks are engaged in a similar struggle; to the right, a small bird waits, beak open, with a winged insect in its sights. Confidently written at the foot of the page is the name of the scribe-illuminator, 'Io. Franciscus Bredda Patavij. scrib. & miniabat.'. We have found little trace of Giovanni Francesco Bredda; a scribe and illuminator of the same name, likely his predecessor, Bartolomeo Breda, is recorded in the same line of work around the turn of the century; he was also a draftsman and cartographer (Brizzi, 283).

The design is unusual - we have identified only one other degree with a similar bird and serpent design on its final leaf - as is its very presence here. At the end of the seventeenth century the University of Padova enacted stringent rules regarding the use of only official, university-approved scribes and illuminators for its degree certificates (Del Negro, 110). The elaborate demonstration of the artist's skill here dates from before these restrictions were imposed, and is a compelling advertisement of his talents in what was still, at that point, an open market for illuminators and miniaturists.

Provenance: Accompanying typewritten letter from Italian operatic composer Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945) addressed to 'My dear maestro', in English, dated 18 June 1934 from Leghorn (Livorno). The letter requests preferential treatment - 'fair, and without any trace of bias' - for the daughter of a friend who was sitting exams at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Florence; the addressee, 'Guerrine', is presumably one of her examiners or the Conservatory's director. 

Some smudging and minor thumbing to leaves, otherwise in good condition. 

Refs: G.P. Brizzi & C. Furlan, 'Diplomi di laurea all'Università di Padova (1504-1806)', Quaderni per la storia dell'università di Padova 32 (1999), pp.275-86. P. Del Negro, 'Lo scrittore-miniatore di diplomi di laurea tra Sei e Settecento: da mestiere senzalcuno impedimento a carica di un deputato", Quaderni per la storia dell'università di Padova, 36 (2003), pp.109-34. P.F. Grendler, Universities of the Italian Renaissance (JHU, 2004). A.F. Steuart, 'The Scottish 'Nation' at the University of Padua', The Scottish Historical Review 3.9 (1905), pp.53-62.

Stock Code: 252107

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