Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Virgil of Batolomeo Sanvito (London, BL King’s MS 24)

Made, likely, by Batolomeo Sanvito in Central Rome, Italy around 1483-1485. Sanvito lived from 1435 to 1518 and was a scribe from Padua, Italy. He was a master of humanistic italic script and it is likely that he also illustrated the manuscript. The manuscript was made for Ludovico Agnelli an apostolic protonotary (a high papal official) and bishop of Consenza, reigning from 1497-1499. On folios 1, 17, and 59 there are his arms, which have the black hat of an apostolic protonotary above it with his device, which is a lamb.  The manuscript contains the work of Virgil and Psuedo-Ovid. It is written in Latin with the script humanistic cursive. The manuscript contains seventeen miniatures. The binding, post-1600, is calfskin with added gilt-stamped insignia of George III; there are marbled endpapers and gilt edges. The manuscript itself is well made though not necessarily on the level of manuscripts made for royalty which is evidence of popular and more accessible book production . There are detailed illustration and historiated initials throughout. The text itself was made for a clergyman but the text is secular, specifically a reproduction of the work of Virgil.
The manuscript contains seventeen miniatures scenes that include putti, dolphins, sphinxes, and more. There are also decorated initials and borders. The figures within the illustrations are not depicted in a contemporary fashion but instead in antique clothing. I have included four illustrations from the text below. Three of the illustrations have to do with Greek mythology of the Trojan horse and the underworld. Each of these images is clear narrative with identifiable characters. In the miniature of the underworld the most identifiable character for anyone with knowledge of the Greek afterlife, the boatman is easily identified as Chiron. The scene with the Trojan horse is well known and in the illustration shows the moment the Trojan horse was delivered. The fourth illustration I included is called Rural Life, which is interesting because the scene seems contemporary rather than showing that of antiquity. There is a small farm house among a very pastoral scene with quite a few farm animals. The narrative in this illustration shows the life of a Shepard with them shearing their animals to milking them.
In Northern Italy during the thirteenth century there was a rise of interest in using the newly discovered copies of works by rare or forgotten authors. The thirteenth century authors who used these newly discovered works were laymen interested in literature but also members of notarial or judicial profession. An example of this is Albertanus of Brescia who copied from Carolingian codex of letters of Seneca and added marginal comments and sketches. The Virgil of Batolomeo is not so different with its added illustrations to a new copy of Virgil’s work. This new interest in antique books also came along with a reform in writing, which led to the humanistic scripts, more specifically a cursive. In Italy there was also a resurgence of book art. Humanistic art trends of the period included small initials with white shoots in colored panels, architectural borders, putti, half-length figures, antique motifs, coats of arms, emblems and medallions of the patrons. Many of these illustrations are seen in the Virgil of Batolomeo like the decorated initials, coats of arms, and more.

Miniature of the Trojan horse

The Trojan Horse: Miniature of the Tojan horse entering the gates of Troy and the historiated initial ‘C’ of Aeneas carrying Anchises and leading Ascanius, at the beginning of the book II of Virgil’s Aeneid. With display capitals in a four-color sequence and decorated initial ‘C’. 

The horse appears to have been modeled after antique bronze horses of St. Marks in Venice. The artist created the scenes so that there was a clear narrative, in this case the narrative of the Trojan horse and its entrance into the city of Troy.

Miniature of Rural Life: Detail of miniature illustrating book III of Virgil’s Georgics, with shepherds in a landscape with sheep, goats, cattle, sheep shearing, and milking.

The Underworld: Detail of a miniature of Aeneas with the Sibyl at the entrance to the Underworld; with Charon in his boat and Cerberus at the gate at the beginning of book VI of Virgi's Aeneid. 

Bernard Bischoff, Latin Paleography, “The Age of Humanism”, Cambridge, 1990.


  1. I wouldn't call the images of the Trojan Horse and of Aeneas in the underworld "Greek" per se. Both are scenes pulled directly from the Aeneid. Roman and Greek mythology are very closely connected in many ways, with the former following from the latter, and the Aeneid is one attempt to reconcile a lot of these cross-cultural myths. For example, it creates a direct ancestral link between the Trojans and the Romans (particularly the Caesars, and by extension, Emperor Augustus, who commissioned the work). It is of a particular novelty in regards to the fact that it is the only surviving depiction we have of the Trojan Horse, and it is a Roman account from man hundreds of years after the Iliad. In any case, by the very fact that they are depicted in the Aeneid, they are ingrained in Roman myth.

  2. The extent to which classical society continued to have such a prominent influence on the interests and works of medieval society. The seeming care with which this manuscript was made speaks volumes about the passion that its illustrator/scribe, Batolomeo Sanvito, created it. The quality and style of manuscript is certainly aesthetically pleasing and reflects the ever improving method of medieval book making as the process developed further and further from its humble origins. I especially liked the miniature of the rural scene that was provided as it clearly shows the imagined rural life of the ancients by medieval peoples which has carried on to modern cultures of constantly depicting Roman society as clean and beautiful with white marble buildings even though this was most likely not the case for the majority of Roman society.

  3. I think it is very interesting to see the persistent interest in classical antiquity reflected in books, and particularly of note that this interest extended beyond the scholarly to include working officials in the church and bureaucracy. It reflects something of a shift in the church's views of purely secular and literary texts, though of course such attitudes varied across centuries. The immense detail and care put into the decoration is truly beautiful, and the humanistic italic is absolutely beautiful. The Carolingian letter forms are still very distinguishable, and it is interesting to see which kinds of variation on the classic theme were seen as fashionable and desirable.

  4. I agree with everyone above, the continued interest in classical antiquity is extremely interesting. I like how the illustrations are done, it reminds me how the dame scene can be interpreted and illustrated in so many different ways depending on the era and popular art style of that era. It reminds me of the Trojan War movie that came out in the 2000s era, and how that was portrayed as a sort of a gritty reboot of the classic Trojan War story. I have noticed this them continually throughout our course, and it always interests me to see it.
    I also like the humanistic script used in this piece, it looks very pretty. A lot better than the regular Gothic that I we have seen in the past couple weeks. It is also interesting to note that we are beginning to approach the threshold for printed books and I wonder to what extent (if at all) it influenced this particular manuscript.