Wondrous Sienese illustration cycle of cryptic prophecies concerning Popes and the Papacy
18 [Joachim di Fiore] Vaticinia sive Prophetiae et Imagines Summorum PontificumManuscript on vellum, illustrated by the workshop of Lorenzo di Pietro ‘Il Vecchietta’ (Benvenuto di Giovanni?). Italy, Siena, c. 1450 and c. 1464.
245 x 175 mm. 5+16+5 leaves: I10, II6. – Written in red ink in an Italian batârde script, by the hands of various scribes. 22 coloured full-page pen-and-ink drawings, 10 uncoloured pen-and-ink drawings in brown ink. – Overall in very fine condition, minor browning, some washed stains on red scripture, parchment partly corrugated. – Green morocco by the English bookbinder Katherine Adams (1862-1952) in Worcestershire, 1905. Modern book case in crimson leather containing two separate boxes for the book and the folder that is attached to the manuscript. It contains references to former owners, comparable manuscripts and above all the correspondence by Sir Sidney Cockerell. The letters of Sir Sidney and Ulrich Middeldorf from the 1940’s in particular, bear witness to the difficulties of scholarly work during war and post-war times.
PROVENANCE: As is frequently the case with manuscripts once in the possession of Sir Sidney Cockerell, the interior cover and the first sheet contain handwritten notes concerning the provenance and parallel manuscripts with the same text. 1. Mr. Paravicini’s sale, Sotheby’s, London, July 2nd 1824. 2. J. H. Bushby, exhibition at the Society of Antiquaries of London before March 3rd 1865 and at the Burlington Fine Arts Club 1908, no. 188. His auction at Sotheby’s London, 10 December 1904, lot 981. 3. Sir Sidney Cockerell (1867-1962). 4. H. P. Kraus, New York. 5. Dr. Peter and Irene Ludwig,Aachen. 6. H. P. Kraus, cat. Monumenta Codicum Manu Scriptorum, New York 1974, no. 37. 7. Private collection, Europe.
TEXT: The book recounts cryptic prophetic visions concerning historical and future popes and the papacy in general, in a mostly critical tone.The author of these ominous prophecies remains unknown. Supposedly, franciscan radicals who emigrated to Greece under pope Boniface VIII composed the first 15 texts, beginning with pope Nicolas III (1277-80). In the Middle Ages the text was often connected with Joachim di Fiore to furnish it with some authority. The texts are almost incomprehensible, first because of repeated copying and second because obscurity was a necessary characteristic of an oracle, and was intentional: the abstruse structure allows the texts to be read as referring to various popes. During the pontificate of Benedict XIII (1334-42) or of Clement VI (1342-52) a second series of 15 prophecies was written and another anonymous author compiled a third version, like ours. These Vaticinia spread widely in the 15th and even 16th centuries and became so popular that they were published in print too.The first scribe annotated fol. 1-9, the second – in a more cursory, less meticulous hand – fol. 9v-11v. A third scribe added the texts on fol. 12-16v.
ILLUSTRATION: fol. 1: I: Nicholas III – fol. 1v: II: Martin IV – fol. 2: III: Honorius IV – fol. 2v: IV: Nicholas IV – fol. 3: V: Celestin V – fol. 3v:VI: Boniface VIII – fol. 4:VII: Benedict XI – fol. 4v:VIII: Clement V – fol. 5: IX: John XXII – fol. 5v: X: Benedict XII – fol. 6: XI: Clement VI – fol. 6v: XII: Innocent VI – fol. 7: XIII: Urban V – fol. 7v: XIV:Gregory XI – fol. 8: XV: Urban VI – fol. 8v: XVI: Boniface IX – fol. 9: XVII: Innocent VII – fol. 9v: XVIII: Gregory XII – fol. 10: XIX: Alexander V – fol. 10v: XX: John XXIII – fol. 11: XXI: Martin V – fol. 11v: XXII: Eugene IV – fol. 12: XXIII: Nicholas V – fol. 12v: XXIV: Calixt III – fol. 13: XXV: Pius II – fol. 13v: XVI: without name – Paul II – fol. 14: XXVII: without name – Sixt IV – fol. 14v: XXVIII: without name – Innocent VIII – fol. 15: XXIX: without name – Alexander VI – fol. 15v: XXX: without name – Pius III – fol. 16: Gog and Magog – fol. 16v: the Good Shepherd. The illustration cycle consists of two sections: the first stage comprises the texts, including fol. 11v, up to Eugene IV (1431- 47). Assuming that the first part of the manuscript was executed during or directly following his reign, the terminus post quem should be c. 1447.After fol. 12, still within the first quire, the uncoloured drawings are less refined and drawn with a slightly stronger quill. Either two different artists illustrated the codex at the same time – therefore around 1464 – or the second part of the manuscript was illuminated later on leaves originally left blank. The second scribe worked during the years 1461-64, as the last mentioned pope is Pius II (1458-64). The exact artistic source of the pictures is difficult to determine, although, iconographically, they are clearly dependent on a model. Nevertheless, the first 30 images relate the manuscript to one of three groups determined by the arrangement of Vat. XXI-XXVI. Our codex belongs to the so-called ‘Regina’group (Millet 2004). Two images from outside that iconographic tradition close the cycle, providing a hopeful perspective after the rather gloomy prophecies: in the end, after Gog and Magog have walked the earth, a virtuous pope will be elected who will reign as the Good Shepherd (fol. 16/v). Bernard Berenson ascribed the drawings to the Sienese circle of Lorenzo di Pietro alias ‘il Vecchietta’. Scholarly analysis of Sienese drawing, especially around 1450, is still in its infancy since so few objects are known, so the attribution of the illustrations to a particular artist must be approached with caution. Even so,Vecchietta’s was the only workshop in Siena able and willing to adopt northern Italian elements (such as the young lady with a goblet on her head on fol. 2v, which references the work of Pisanello) and adapt them for the visual world of Siena around the mid-15th century. At least two artists worked on the coloured illustrations:Vecchietta himself probably conceived the cycle, whereas young Benvenuto di Giovanni executed most of the coloured drawings.A third artist is responsible for the uncoloured depictions, but to define his individual style would require further research.
LITERATURE: Hermann 1930, p. 166; Millet 2004, p. 216. Hermann 1920, p. 165; Degenhart/Schmidt 1968, no. 120; De Polo 1985, pp. 585-596; Lerner/Moynihan 1985, Millet 2004.