Lot 4
  • 4

John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistles of St. Paul, in Greek, manuscript on vellum [eastern Mediterranean, eleventh or twelfth century]

15,000 - 20,000 GBP
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  • Vellum
a leaf, 297mm. by 214mm., two columns, 35 lines, in a slightly sloping Greek cursive minuscule with some calligraphic ligatures, three initials in dark red, tailpiece with a line of red and black penwork terminating in a trefoil, headpiece of interlaced penwork, rows of single or double 'diple' marks in the margins indicating biblical sources (the ultimate ancestors of modern speech marks), recovered from use as a limp vellum wrapper now with central horizontal folds and stab holes, in a paper folder



From the library of Niccolò Niccoli (c.1364/5-1437), protohumanist and co-founder of the Florentine renaissance, inventor of humanistic cursive, who "built up a magnificent library, notable for the rarity and quality of the texts that it contained" (A. C. de la Mare, The Handwriting of Italian Humanists, I, i, 1973, p.46). Poggio Bracciolini claimed that Niccoli owned some 800 manuscripts, a figure repeated with admiration by the bookseller and biographer Vespasiano da Bisticci. Even more remarkable, given the early date, is that upwards of 146 of these were in Greek (B. L. Ullman and P. A. Stadter, The Public Library of Renaissance Florence, Niccolò Niccoli, Cosimo de' Medici and the Library of San Marco, 1972, pp.59-60). Greek manuscripts were extremely scarce in western Europe before the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Niccoli had learned some Greek from Manuel Chrysoloras who was teaching in Florence in c.1497-1400, but he probably never entirely mastered it. He might have acquired the present manuscript from Chrysoloras himself. In 1429-32 he evidently lent it to Ambrogio Traversari, who translated the text into Latin, which Niccoli then wrote down from his dictation. The incident is described in Vespasiano's life of Traversari (Vite, ed. A. Greco, 1970, I, p. 451). The resulting Latin version, in Niccoli's own hand, is now Florence, Bib. Naz. Conv. Sopp. J.VI.6, dated 1432.

After his death, Niccoli's manuscripts were left in the care of 16 trustees, from whom the finest books were bought by Cosimo de' Medici (1389-1464), to form the nucleus of a new public library at the Dominican convent of San Marco in Florence, where they were installed and chained in 1441 at Cosimo's expense. They were all inscribed in Latin by the first librarian, as is the present leaf, with the title and the ownership inscription of San Marco "ex hereditate Nicolai de Niccolis". In the library catalogue of 1499-1500, the manuscript was listed as no.1098, the ninth volume in the fifth bookpress on the east side of the library, "Iohannes Chrysostomus in epistolas ad Timotheum secundam et in eph'as [sic for "epl'am"] ad Philippenses, in membranis" (Ullman and Stadter, p.253). In the mid-sixteenth-century catalogue of San Marco it was M 20 among the Greek manuscripts, now in the third bookpress on the right as one enters the library (ibid, p.274). At some stage, perhaps in San Marco itself, the present leaf was detached and was folded for use as a vellum wrapper.

The library of San Marco was confiscated during the Napoleonic occupation (1808) and is mostly now in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence, but some items, perhaps having been concealed by the friars themselves in 1808, were acquired by Payne and Foss and brought to London in 1832. On 16 March 1833 a list of them was sent to Sir Thomas Phillipps, including what was apparently the residue of the present text, then with 331 leaves remaining (ibid, p.55; cf. Schøyen MS 1571/2). It was not bought by Phillipps and, if it survives, it is not identifiable without the present leaf.

The leaf was purchased in 1992 through Jörn Günther from the collection of Mark Lansburgh (his stamp on verso; cited by him, 'The Illuminated Manuscript Collection at Colorado', The Art Journal, XXVIII, 1968, p.62). It is Schøyen MS 1571/1.

Catalogue Note


St. John Chrysostom (c.347-407) delivered his celebrated biblical homilies in Greek in Antioch in the late 380s and 390s, and they are generally accepted as the greatest commentaries on the Bible of the early Middle Ages. The leaf opens imperfectly – as the whole manuscript did in Niccoli's time – with the last 10 lines of chapter 6 of Chrysostom's homily XVII on I Timothy (Pat. Graec. 62:600). A fifteenth-century note in a cursive hand at the top, probably not that of Niccoli (but certainly similar to his), observes that this earlier text was already lost. The second column opens with a 2-line heading, 6 lines from II Timothy 1:1-2, and the opening of chapter 1 of Chrysostom's homily I on II Timothy (Pat. Graec. 62:599-600), continuing onto the verso. The title by the San Marco librarian records that the volume then also included Chrysostom on Philippians.