(1) Written and decorated in 1468 for ANGELO FASOLO (1426-91), bishop of Feltre, bibliophile, and one of the most important Humanists at the papal court in Rome during the papacies of Pius II, Paul II, and Sixtus IV; early sources are unanimous in praising his rich library, which included at least two books partly written by Bartolomeo Sanvito (see de la Mare and Nuvoloni, 2009, pp.30, 198, 204, 212), and two others illuminated, like the present volume, by Gioacchino di Giovanni de Gigantibus. The library seems to have been dispersed after Fasolo’s death, many passing to distinguished new owners: at least two have Fasolo’s arms over-painted with those of Pope Julius II; a later owner of the present manuscript smudged Fasolo’s arms and added inscriptions (now thoroughly erased) in the upper and lower margins of the first page.
(2) HENRY JOSEPH THOMAS DRURY (1778-1841), FSA, classical scholar, member of the Roxburghe Club, master at Harrow School, friend of Byron and Dibdin; ownership inscription with shelfmark C.ζ.3 (f.iir); his sale by Evans, London, 19 February 1827, lot 1809, bought by Thorpe for £4 19s.
(3) SIR THOMAS PHILLIPPS (1792-1872), compulsive ‘vellophile’, acquired with about 70 other Drury manuscripts, this one apparently from Thorpe for £7 7s. (price and price-code in pencil, f.i verso); his MS 3374 (number inscribed in blue crayon on f.iir, and printed label at the foot of the spine); retained by the Fenwick family (Phillipps’s heirs) when the rest of the collection was dispersed, and placed on deposit at the British Library for more than half a century from 1949; subsequently withdrawn and acquired by the present owner.
text and illumination
The text ‘stands as the final, as well as the most complete, work on astrology of the Classical world’ and ‘one of the last great statements of the thoughts and feelings of pagan Rome’ (J.R. Bram, Ancient Astrology Theory and Practice: Matheseos Libri VIII by Julius Firmicus Maternus, 1975, pp.1-3). It contains the only surviving horoscope in Latin from the classical period.
The oldest surviving manuscripts are of the 11th century, containing only Books I-III and part of IV, which all seem to derive from a single exemplar. Copies are mentioned in a few library catalogues of the following centuries, but the earliest extant copies of the entire text are of the 15th century. An interesting feature of the present manuscript is that while some marginalia are simply corrections of scribal slips, others (marked ‘[ve]l’ or ‘al[iter])’ apparently represent variant readings based on the collation of more than one exemplar.
The text was first printed in 1497, and more notably by Aldus Manutius in 1499. There have been two recent editions and three translations: Bram, op.cit. (English translation, with useful introduction); P. Monat, Firmicus Maternus, Mathesis, 3 vols., 1992-97, with a French translation; and J.H. Holden, Julius Firmicus Maternus, Mathesis, 2011, with English translation.
The text is apparently exceptionally rare on the market; the Schoenberg database records no more than two other copies ever having been sold, both on paper: one in 1906, now at the Wellcome Library, the other in 1946, a portion only, and perhaps copied from a printed edition, now at New York Public Library. This therefore appears to be the finest copy ever offered at auction.
scribe and artist
The scribe LEONARDO JOB signed and dated the text at the end: ‘.L. IOB S[CRIP]S[IT] / 1468’; another manuscript written for Fasolo and signed by the scribe ‘Leonardus Iob’ is Houghton Library, MS. Typ. 91 (see P. Kidd in Harvard Library Bulletin, 21, 2010, p.145; for a list of some of his other manuscripts, see C. de Hamel, Gilding the Lilly, 2010, p.154. Among other patrons, he wrote books for Mathias Corvinas, King of Hungary (see J. Ruysschaert, 'Miniaturistes “romains” sous Pie II', in D. Maffei, ed., Enea Silvio Piccolomini, Papa Pio II, 1968, p.274 n.193).
The illuminated initials at the beginning of each of the eight books (ff.1r, 11r, 22r, 48r, 68r, 88v, 118r, and 132v) can be attributed to the prolific German-born illuminator GIOACCHINO DI GIOVANNI DE GIGANTIBUS (on whom see M. Bollati, Dizionario biografico dei miniatori, 2004, pp.265-6 and Ruysschaert, op. cit., pp.267-80). He appears frequently in accounts from 1460 to 1485, being paid for illuminating manuscripts for the duomo of Siena and for successive popes Pius II, Paul II, Sixtus IV, and Innocent VIII, and his style can also be recognised in manuscripts made for the two preceding popes, Nicholas V and Callixtus III. Two manuscripts he illuminated for Fasolo are discussed by Ruysschaert (op. cit., pp.273-74 and pl.28). Clearly he was a favourite of popes and their households, as well as King Ferdinand I of Naples.
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