The most important exegetic work of the later Middle Ages
17 Nicolaus de Lyra, Postilla litteralis super Vetus TestamentumIlluminated manuscript on vellum in two volumes, dated and signed by the scribe Egidius Alamanus. Italy, Ferrara?, 1441-56.
392 x 275 mm.Vol. I: 1 paper leaf, 232 vellum leaves (4 leaves missing), I10-4, II-XXII10, XXIII2, XXIV4.Vol. II: 1 paper leaf, 281 vellum leaves, (the last leaf written by a later hand, replacing a missing leaf of the original content), I10+1, II-XII10, XIII2, XIV-XXVIII10, XXIX2, XXX6+1. Catchwords throughout, foliation in ink in the upper right corners of both volumes, I: fol. 5-236, II: fol. 1-280 (fol. 187 counted twice), probably dating from the 18th century, table of contents on the paper leaves by the same scribe. – Written space: 250-262 x 180-185 mm, two columns of 72 to 73 lines. Small Textualis in dark brown ink with numerous marginal notes, underlinings in red. Beginnings of chapters highlighted by two-line initials alternately in blue and red.The scribe changes at the end of the first and in the course of the second volume.These sections are marked by three- to four-line penwork initials. – 22 (vol. I) and 30 (vol. II) large initials with delicate penwork decoration in red and blue partly with some liquid gold introducing the beginnings of each book. 19 pen-and-ink drawings coloured with washes, mainly incorporated in the text, illustrating vol. I, numerous blanks for further drawings. – Very fine condition throughout. – Historicised 20th-century binding: dark brown leather, covers and spine richly gilt. Modern vellum endpapers.
PROVENANCE: Private collection France.
TEXT: The two volumes contain the Postilla super Vetus Testamentum, commentaries on all books of the Old Testament. They are part of the Postilla litteralis super totam Bibliam. Written between 1322 and 1331 this extensive exegetic opus on the whole Bible constitutes the most important achievement of the theologian Nicolaus de Lyra, a Franciscan friar (c. 1270/75-1349). The Postilla may without exaggeration be regarded as the most important exegetic work of the later Middle Ages whose influence on Martin Luther, on the age of the Reformation and far beyond must not be underrated. Vernacular translations of parts of the Postilla as well as of the entire text were produced early on. Numerous, mostly fragmentary manuscripts testify to the importance of the Postilla. It was also the first biblical commentary to appear in print.The original edition was printed in Rome in 1471. The two volumes at issue can be dated between 1441 and 1456 on the basis of several colophons. The most detailed note is to be found on fol. 107v of the second volume: “Explicit postilla supra librum psalmorum edita a fratre Nicholao de Lyra de ordine fratrum minorum sacre pagine doctore scripta per Egidium alamanum (...) M.ccc.liiiii die xxii mensis octobris”.The same scribe signed two more times (vol. II, fol. 35, fol. 115v). The script of Egidius Alemanus is remarkable for its delicacy and elegance as well as its consistent regularity. This excellent scribe, who according to his surname must have been of German origin, presumably produced more than just this one work, although no other manuscript can be attributed to him so far. One hypothesis to be considered is the question whether our Egidius Alemanus could have been identical with a certain Egidio Teutonico, who is documented as scribe (and maybe also illuminator) of a manuscript in Perugia dated 1474 (Biblioteca Comunale Augusta, Cod. 798 L. 50, cf. Aeschlimann 1940, p. 58; Bistoni Grilli Cicilioni 1994, vol. 1, pp. 61/62, pl. 155). For reasons unknown to us a second scribe concluded the work on both volumes. In vol. I. the change is implemented on fol. 227v, whereas in vol. II he took over on fol. 188v (cf. also fol. 187, an inserted single leaf with a blank verso). The second scribe can be recognized by a very precise and clear but less dynamic script that can be distinguished from the hand of Egidius by the vertically placed catchwords and the larger-sized chapter initials. At the same time, however, the second scribe obviously strove to get as close as possible to the example of his predecessor and to finish his work in a harmonious way. The two volumes presented here clearly illustrate the lengthy process of the production of a monumental manuscript, which spanned 15 years.
ILLUMINATION: fol. 8:Two cross-sections of Noah’s Ark (Genesis 6/7) - fol. 44v:Two illustrations of the Ark of the Covenant with angels (Exodus 25) - fol. 45:Two representations of the table with two bowls containing the consecrated bread (Ex 25) - fol. 45v:Two seven-branch candelabra (Ex 25) - fol. 46: Two representations of the carpets joined together by loops (Ex 26) - fol. 46v: Two representations of the veil in front of the Holy of Holies (Ex 26) - fol. 47:The altar (Ex 27) - fol. 47v:The altar with its enclosure (Ex 27) - fol. 48:Aaron in the vestment of a priest (Ex 28) - fol. 49v:The copper basin for the washing of hands and feet (Ex 30) - fol. 50v:The tables of law (Ex 32) - fol. 53v:A general plan of the sanctuary with the altar in front of it (Ex 32). As the blanks left in the text show, a detailed cycle of illustrations of all biblical books had originally been planned. However, only 19 pen-and-wash drawings illustrating the first two Books of Moses have been executed. A stylistic classification of the illustrations is very difficult as they are of a rather schematic character. For an iconographic comparison with other manuscript copies one may refer for example to a lavishly illuminated Postilla which was probably executed in Flanders c. 1450-75 and fragments of which are now in Den Haag (Kon. Bibl., ms. KB, 128 C8’’ for reproductions cf. www.kb.nl/kb/manuscripts). Although the compositions are generally more complex, some details, e. g. the figures, bear interesting resemblances to the illumination of our manuscript. A consistent iconography for illustrating the Postilla may well have been in use at that time. Generally speaking the illustrations correspond in their conception to the didactic purpose and use of this manuscript containing the most important exegetic text on the Bible. According to Gaudenz Freuler the drawings representing human figures reveal stylistic parallels with fragments of a psalter created in an anonymous workshop in Ferrara (today in private collections in Switzerland resp. Milan).
LITERATURE: The manuscript is hitherto unpublished. Aeschlimann 1940; Bistoni Grilli Cicilioni 1994.