Characteristic Handwriting

The handwriting styles of dozens of people older than me are as familiar as their faces. Of the generation younger than me, I only know the hands of my closest relatives. The world is changing as people key their messages instead of scrawling them, and there are times when I feel like a mobile starting gate at a harness race: behind me a jostling world where we knew one another by our scripts; ahead of me, a blank new era where an individual's handwriting is as private a matter as their belly button.

This week's digitizations by Digita Vaticana put me in mind of that change, because one of them is of a book which is generally agreed to be an author's manuscript from 750 years ago: a commentary by the Dominican philosopher-theologian Thomas Aquinas. Vat. lat. 9851 has, as one might expect, lots of crossings out, as on folio 35v:

At the back is various by-play including a letter (typewritten in 1951 - the thin end of the wedge as hand-script began to recede) by the bishop of Salamanca.

Autographs of Aquinas are quite rare. There is a codex in Naples, and this book's shelf neighbour, Vat. lat 9850 containing Super Boethium De Trinitate (fol. 1–104) and Super Isaiam (fol. 105–114).

What is extraordinary is that there were people last century not only skilled enough to decipher this Latin cuneiform, but actually able to recognize one man's own handwriting into the bargain.

Maria Burger (publication), for example, published an article some years ago, arguing that Aquinas was the person who inscribed glosses in  Cologne Cathedral Codex 30. In an age where handwriting is atrophying, for how much longer will people be able to make such an identification at a glance?

The full list of digitizations runs to 29, and brings the posted total before Easter to 3,987. Here's my unofficial list. You won't get it anywhere else: the Biblioteca does not publish any official list.
  1. Reg.lat.1, Vulgate Bible
  2. Reg.lat.4, Gospels with canon tables, Siglum Pr in Fischer tally of 490 Latin gospel manuscripts
  3. Reg.lat.1535, Martianus Capella, De Nuptiis
  4. Ott.lat.79, Ottoboni Gospels, northern France, 9th century, with canon tables in arches. This magnificent beast is the bottom of a letter L (for Liber, the first word of the Gospel of Matthew, and later the origin of the currency symbol £ formed in similar fashion):
    @ParvaVox responded:
  5. Ott.lat.296, Gospels
  6. Vat.gr.139, Plutarch
  7. Vat.lat.112, glossed Minor Prophets, Daniel, etc.
  8. Vat.lat.505, Augustine of Hippo, letters, various
  9. Vat.lat.513, Augustine, Against Five Heresies, various
  10. Vat.lat.514, Augustine, various
  11. Vat.lat.557, a Commentary on the Book of Epigrams of Prosper of Aquitaine (2r-27v)
  12. Vat.lat.564, Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy
  13. Vat.lat.569, no clear incipit
  14. Vat.lat.575, Gregory the Great
  15. Vat.lat.580, Gregory the Great
  16. Vat.lat.592, Gregory the Great, Regula Pastoralis
  17. Vat.lat.594, Gregory the Great, Dialogues
  18. Vat.lat.609, Augustine, Letters, etc
  19. Vat.lat.3201, the Ottimo Commento, a commentary on Dante. This was long attributed to Andrea Lancia of Florence, but a 2010 article has apparently disproved that authorship
  20. Vat.lat.4776,
  21. Vat.lat.5764, Isidore, Etymologiae (part). The flyleaves, front and back, are 8th-century uncial pages from Bobbio, Italy with the Lowe designation CLA 1 42 (TM 66138). @ParvaVox notes:
  22. Vat.lat.5776, an 11th-century manuscript of which significant parts are re-used parchment with under-layers reaching back to 7th-century Bobbio, Lowe designations CLA 1 44; 1 45; 1 46; 1 47 (TM). @ParvaVox notes:
  23. Vat.lat.7082, Piccolomini, autograph
  24. Vat.lat.7793, part of Bible of Aracoeli: Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, glossed
  25. Vat.lat.7797, part of Bible of Aracoeli: Gospels, glossed, with illuminations credited to Master Nicolaus. Here is a winged man holding a very long scroll to represent the Evangelist Matthew:
  26. Vat.lat.7799, part of Bible of Aracoeli: Ezekiel onwards, glossed
  27. Vat.lat.8209, letters?
  28. Vat.lat.8913, Matthias Palmerius, died 1483, see CERL
  29. Vat.lat.9851, Thomas Aquinas, his autograph of Scriptum super Sentiis, dating from about 1255. The topic is the Sentences of Peter Lombard, written 100 years earlier. A note bound inside states the codex was given to a Dominican Oratory of Aversa (see Buratti) by Charles II of Naples (in about 1300).  Auguste Pelzer in a comprehensive article states that he supervised the rebinding of this codex in 1952. The black and white page is a (printed) photograph of a folio at Coria in Spain. See also a review by Landgraf of a main work on Thomist autographs.
If you have corrections or additions, please use the comments box below. Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for news of more additions to Digita Vaticana. [This is Piggin's Unofficial List 43.]


Love Letters of Henry VIII

Among the most celebrated possessions of the Vatican Library is a sheaf of 17 love letters written by King Henry VIII of England to his future second wife Anne Boleyn. The package, Vat.lat.3731.pt.A, was digitized and issued online late on March 15.

The BAV library has made no announcement. I am breaking the news here on the world's only portal  that monitors their largely unnoticed digital program.

There can be no doubt the documents are genuine and date from 1527-28. Here is Henry's sign-off: "Written with the hand of him [which desireth as much to be yours as you do to have him],  H. AB  R."
How they got to Rome is anyone's guess (perhaps stolen by a Boleyn confidant, probably taken via France, since French notes are attached). For centuries, Vatican librarians have been showing them to impress high-ranking English visitors to Rome. Now at last, the rest of us can be titillated too.

The reference to "pretty dukkys" in the screenshot above from folio 15 employs dug, the conventional 16th-century English word for a woman's breast. The whole sentence has Henry "wishing myself (especially an evening) in my sweetheart’s arms, whose pretty dukkys I trust shortly to kiss."

Devious Henry ends another letter: "No more to you at this present, mine own darling, for lack of time, but that I would you were in mine arms, or I in yours, for I think it long since I kissed you" (From Letter 16 as transcribed on The Anne Boleyn Files, which also has a debate about demanding their return to England.)

The story of Henry's seduction ended, as we know, badly. Henry divorced, wed Anne, but dumped her and had her beheaded at the Tower of London in 1536.

My unofficial list (the only list, since the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana issues none) of all  32 digitizations on March 15 follows. I will add more details as I have time: 
  1. Barb.lat.4432, Leonardo Bufalini's 1551 map of Rome, the first ever printed. None of the first printing survives and only three copies of the second printing (two at Vatican, one at British Library). This one is bound with an 1880 monograph describing it. Here is the Colosseum and Meta Sudans as they then were:
  2. Borg.arm.65, with this wonderful Armenian angel:
  3. Cappon.307, monumental inscriptions, many Greek
  4. Reg.lat.26, illuminated bible in Old French, 13th or 14th century. Here is Jonah being swallowed by the whale on fol. 178r (the silver has turned black):
  5. Urb.lat.90, Bernard of Clairvaux, Renaissance manuscript
  6. Urb.lat.219, Seneca, Letters, 15th C
  7. Urb.lat.245, Pliny the Younger, Natural History, manuscript dated 1440
  8. Urb.lat.265, Vitello, Optica, 14th century, with many diagrams like this at fol. 19r
  9. Urb.lat.316, Cicero, Letters, 1453
  10. Urb.lat.322, Cicero, Letters, 15th century
  11. Urb.lat.335, Quintilian, Speeches, 15th century
  12. Urb.lat.385, Rufinus Latin of Eusebius, History of the Church
  13. Urb.lat.405, Piccolomini's history of Frederick III, 15th century
  14. Urb.lat.488, Origen of Alexandria in Rufinus translation
  15. Urb.lat.490, Urban of Urbanus, commentary
  16. Urb.lat.499, Nicolò di Vito Gozzi
  17. Urb.lat.504, On Zeno of Verona, plus section by Basil the Great
  18. Urb.lat.511, Bartholomew of San Concordio, moral treatise with alphabetical list of conscience issues
  19. Urb.lat.534, Antony de Sancto Leone
  20. Urb.lat.543, Canticles, glossed
  21. Vat.ebr.530.pt.1, collection of unbound fragments and quires from various manuscripts and books, including what seems to be a 17th-century textbook with a schoolroom picture that depicts two Jewish schoolboys greeting one another with high fives:
  22. Vat.gr.357, Gospels, Pinakes
  23. Vat.gr.2365,
  24. Vat.lat.441, Augustine of Hippo, City of God
  25. Vat.lat.449, Augustine, On Genesis
  26. Vat.lat.481, Augustine, On Gospel of John
  27. Vat.lat.487, Augustine, De consensu evangelistarum
  28. Vat.lat.550, Leo the Great, Sermons
  29. Vat.lat.560, Boethius, De Trinitate, etc
  30. Vat.lat.563, Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy
  31. Vat.lat.3467, the Count Paschasio Diaz Garion Psalter, a Latin prayer-book from Spanish Naples with illuminations by Matteo Felice, including a fine Virga Jesse as frontispiece: Here are some Judaean kings perched in the tree:
    In a full page composite Passion Week illumination, we see Judas hiding his face when the photo is taken at the Last Supper:
  32. Vat.lat.3731.pt.A, Henry VIII's autograph letters to Anne Boleyn with French translations. See also Rome Reborn from an exhibition in Washington. One letter was briefly lent in 2009 to the British Museum.
If you have corrections or additions, please use the comments box below. Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for news of more additions to Digita Vaticana. [This is Piggin's Unofficial List 42.]


On the Beach

Leafing through a digitized Byzantine manuscript, I chanced on a beach scene. Not what you expect in a fervently religious codex like Vat.gr. 1162 at the Vatican. The Homilies of Jacobus Kokkinobaphos is an extraordinary illuminated cycle, based around six sermons by a late Byzantine monk, dealing with the life of the Virgin Mary.

This oddly 20th-century scene shows people at leisure in the water: What on earth is it about? The author of this book at Digita Vaticana is James Kokkinobaphos, a 12th-century monk of a so-far unidentified monastery.

The unexpected answer, according to Cosimo Stornajolo, the cataloguer of many such Vatican manuscripts, is that the image depicts Jor and Dan, personifications of the river Jordan. According to Stornajolo, the strange scene on folio 11v depicts Jor and Dan changing out of their clothes to bathe in the river Jordan, and the four swimmers below are simply the two men at various stages of their swim.

The reason this scene is included is explained by the upper part of the same miniature, which depicts Joachim, father of the Virgin, going up a mountain to pray in loneliness and desperation at his inability to obtain a child. This comes from the first homily, based on the apocryphal Protevangelium of James, on which I have posted in the past. He is not a happy chappie:

The frolicking seems to be an artistic device to create a contrast with his profound grief.  As he descends the mountain, the story takes a decisive turn: an angel announces to him his wife is no longer infertile and he eagerly steps up the pace home to beget the Baby Mary.

There was an ancient tradition, endorsed by Jerome of Stridon, alleging that the river had been named as the union of two tributaries, the Dan and the Jor: "Dan is one of the sources of the Jordan. For the other source is indeed called the Jor, which means rheithron, that is 'a brook'." (Quaestiones, Genesis 14:14) and "from whence the Jordan arises [bursts forth and receives its name. Ior is Hebrew for reithron, i.e., stream. or river (De quo et Jordanis flumen erumpens a loco sortitus est nomen. Jor quippe ῥεῖθρον, id est, fluvium sive rivum Hebraei vocant.)" (Onomast.)

Here is Stornajolo's plate of the bathing miniature with the description, "Prayer of Joachim". Stornajolo describes the swimmers as follows: Alcuni si bagnano nel Giordano, personificato da due mezze figure, che, secondo un'antica opinione, accettata anche da S. Girolamo, rappresentavano le due sorgenti lor e Dan, donde poi, secondo tale falsa opinione, sarebbe stato formato il nome del fiume.

Another manuscript of the Homilies is Paris BNF gr. 1208 (Pinakes) which is only online in black and white.


Alfonso's History

One of the great figures of the Middle Ages is King Alfonso X of Castile and Leon (1221 – 1284), known as el Sabio, the Wise, who sponsored science, wrote poetry, treated the church with disdain and commissioned a massive history of the world to be written in Spanish, not Latin. This six-part work, the General Estoria, was never finished, stopping at the start of the current era.

Some sections only exist in manuscripts in Spain, some are lost, and the Vatican Library preserves the sole surviving copy from Alfonso's lifetime of Part Four, Urb. lat. 539, which begins at about 600 BCE and covers the great empires of Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar), Carthage, Alexander of Macedon and Rome. It has just arrived online, a gift to Spanish medievalists and linguists. See Dominguez on Google Books.

It's to be assumed that the portrait of Alfonso in it is painted from life:

On March 1, Digita Vaticana released 32 manuscripts to establish a new posted total of 3,916 digitized works. A large number are from the old papal library at Avignon, France and deal with the controversies of the papacy of John XXII (who was accused of heresy by his opponents).

Here is my strictly unofficial list (the Vatican Library makes no announcements and issues no lists, so you have to trust me on this):
  1. Chig.L.VIII.305, in Italian
  2. Urb.lat.539, part four of the General Estoria compiled at the direction of King Alfonso X in Castilian Spanish (above). Here is a scribe (left) writing and a clergyman and two courtiers listening as the king speaks:
  3. Vat.lat.133, 12th-century Gospel of Luke, glossed
  4. Vat.lat.269, Ambrose of Milan, Hexaemeron and sermons
  5. Vat.lat.348, Letters of Jerome, also items of Augustine and others
  6. Vat.lat.413, 15th-century John Chrysostom
  7. Vat.lat.418, 15th-century Augustine, mainly De Trinitate
  8. Vat.lat.425, 11th/12th century Augustine, City of God
  9. Vat.lat.444, extracts, City of God
  10. Vat.lat.446, Augustine, miscellaneous
  11. Vat.lat.450, ditto
  12. Vat.lat.452, Augustine, on Psalms 51-88
  13. Vat.lat.461, Augustine, Retractions, etc.
  14. Vat.lat.465, Augustine, On Christian Doctrine
  15. Vat.lat.467, Augustine, misc.
  16. Vat.lat.468, Augustine and Bernard of Clairvaux
  17. Vat.lat.480, Augustine, misc.
  18. Vat.lat.561, Boethius, De Trinitate, Two Natures, etc.
  19. Vat.lat.738, one of at least 16 codices from the so-called "Littera grossa" collection of the works of Thomas Aquinas (Vat. lat. 731; Vat. lat. 732; Vat. lat. 738; Vat. lat. 745; Vat. lat. 747; Vat. lat. 757; Vat. lat. 784; Vat. lat. 785; Vat. lat. 787; Vat. lat. 807); commissioned by Pope John XXII, completed in Avignon in 1323, and later owned by the papal library at Avignon (Bibliotheca Avenionensis) during the time of Urban V, where they are attested in a list dated 1369. Thus noted with the St Louis microfilm.
  20. Vat.lat.745, see above
  21. Vat.lat.747,  see above
  22. Vat.lat.787.pt.1, see above
  23. Vat.lat.787.pt.2, see above
  24. Vat.lat.3359, 14th-century
  25. Vat.lat.3740, about 60 texts on apostolic poverty made to advise Pope John XXII at the time of a controversy with the Franciscans 1322-23 on the issue
  26. Vat.lat.3793, canzoni
  27. Vat.lat.3846,
  28. Vat.lat.3978, handbook for the Inquisition
  29. Vat.lat.4007, Annibal de Ceccano, cardinal bishop of Frascati, 1333
  30. Vat.lat.4857, Francis de Marchia, attack on Pope John XXII
  31. Vat.lat.5760, Ambrose of Milan, contents listed on Mirabile, made at Monastery of Bobbio, Italy. The first two folios are said to be palimpsests with masses for the dead and benedictions underneath (though I can see nothing in the digitizations) from Lowe's reconstructed CLA 1 38, TM 66133.
  32. Vat.lat.7568, Comedy of Dante, copied by one Bartolomeo
Two days later on March 3, Digita Vaticana uploaded another ten manuscripts, which I append here. Numbers 3-6 are part of the Thomas Aquinas Summa series mentioned above:
  1. Borgh.348, collection of opinions written in 1320 for Pope John XXII before 14th-century decision to extend inquisition to practitioners of "black magic" in southern France. Notes
  2. Ross.304, Augustine, To Aurelius of Carthage, etc.
  3. Vat.lat.731.pt.1
  4. Vat.lat.731.pt.2
  5. Vat.lat.732
  6. Vat.lat.785.pt.1
  7. Vat.lat.1130, anonymous (John of Paris?) on papal authority
  8. Vat.lat.2106, Peter of Auvergne (Petrus Alverniensis), see Logic Museum. With this fine initial (the devil's in the detail?) at fol 1v.
  9. Vat.lat.3986, Beltrominus, Bishop of Bologna, statutes for his court
  10. Vat.lat.4008, Chronicle of Nicholas Minorita, relating to the apostolic poverty controversy and the papacy of John XXII. See an edition here
If you have corrections or additions, please use the comments box below. Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for news of more additions to Digita Vaticana. [This is Piggin's Unofficial List 41.]