A psalter from the workshop of Bartolomeo Varnucci made to the order of a convent of Benedictine nuns
22 Psalter with hymnalManuscript on vellum, illuminated by the workshop of Bartolomeo Varnucci. Italy, Florence, c. 1460-70.
153 x 114 mm. 248 leaves, incomplete at the end (apparently already by the time the manuscript was bound in its current binding; lacking not more than one quire), I14, II-VI10,VII4,VIII-XXV10, catchwords throughout. – Written space: 95 x 70 mm, 16 lines in the calendar, 21 lines in the first part, 13 lines in the hymnal.Written in a Southern Textualis Formata (Rotunda) in dark brown ink, capitals alternately in red and blue, the following letter touched in yellow, two- and three-line initials with filigree penwork. One eight-line initial in blue with red penwork extending into the margins, 9 historiated initials in the psalter, the first one accompanied by a full border. – In good condition throughout. – 16th-century calfskin binding over wooden boards blind-tooled with fillets and consecutive rosettes; similar to the tools of the “second book binder of Achille Bocchi” (1508-39).Two clasps (catches missing). Spine with some restorations, stamped (PS)ALTERIUM.
PROVENANCE: 1.The manuscript was made to the order of a convent of Benedictine nuns consecrated to St Felicity, as stated by a heading at the beginning of the first part, the psalter. At present it is difficult to identify this monastery. Apart from the heading no entries suggest a special worship of St Felicity on the part of the users of the codex, neither in the calendar, which anyway includes only very few entries, nor in the hymnal.The only other indication of a nunnery as place of origin is a miniature of two singing nuns illuminating Psalm 97. 2. A paper label cut out of a printed book is pasted onto the first blank vellum leaf: “1157. Psalterium secundùm ordinem sancti benedicti, et secundùm monasterium sanctae Felicitatis. Pet. in-8, rel. en bois. Ms. sur vélin, du xve siècle, avec ornements en or et en couleur.” This implies a French provenance. 3. Private collection Europe.
TEXT: fol. 1: Blank – fol. 2-13v: Calendar, containing very few entries – fol. 14: Blank – fol. 15-185v: Incipiunt psalterium secundum ordinem sancti benedicti et secundum monasterium sanctae felicitatis – fol. 186-188v: Litany – fol. 189-246v: Liber hymnorum de feria. The size of the script differs between the psalter and the hymnal and therefore the layout also differs with respect to the number of lines per page: 21 lines in the psalter and 13 lines in the hymnal. The catchword on fol. 186v incipit clearly indicates that both parts belonged together right from the start.
ILLUMINATION: fol. 15: Initial ‘B’: King David, playing the harp – fol. 39: Initial ‘D’: King David in prayer – fol. 53v: Initial ‘D’: Half-length portrait of a man praying, his hand placed beside his mouth – fol. 69: Initial ‘D’: A fool with crosier – fol. 83: Initial ‘S’: King David standing in water and praying – fol. 100v: Initial ‘E’: David playing the psaltery – fol. 116v: Initial ‘C’:Two nuns singing – fol. 133v: Initial ‘D’: God the Father blessing – fol. 137: Initial ‘D’: David in prayer. The miniatures reveal the hands of two illuminators.The first produced the opening initial at the beginning of the psalter (fol. 15). The faces of his figures are characterized by strong outlines and a pronounced shading of cheeks and foreheads. The second painter displays a less expressive hand and was responsible for the remaining miniatures. In contrast to the opening initial the application of colour is less opaque with the result that here and there the vellum ground shows through. The skin is coloured with fine reddish-brown penstrokes. Almond-shaped eyes with large brown pupils dominate the faces, while the angular noses are rather unobtrusive. Comparable physiognomies can be seen in a number of liturgical manuscripts kept in Chiusi whose miniatures are attributed to the workshop of the Florentine illuminator Bartolomeo d’Antonio Varnucci (c. 1412/13-1479). Bartolomeo is documented from 1440 on, when he began to work for the Badia in Florence with his brother Giovanni. He must have headed a prolific workshop as the great number of surviving manuscripts shows. Bartolomeo mainly worked on the illumination of liturgical manuscripts and books of hours. Especially in the latter a repetitiveness of certain compositional schemes is not unusual and assistants could have been employed. Bartolomeo Varnucci repeatedly worked for the Benedictines in Florence. In the Annunciation miniature on fol. 32 of the gradual denoted as Codice S, for instance, we find the same almond-shaped eyes and complexion of the figures. In addition, interior scenes are composed in a comparable way. The compartments of the wooden coffered ceiling in the Annunciation miniature are marked by yellow lines just as the ceiling and the background of the room in which the singing nuns are standing before a lectern in the historiated initial ‘C’ on fol. 116v (Chiusi, Museo delle Cattedrale; exh. cat. Florence 1982, pp. 432-446, especially the illustrations on pp. 440-441). Fol. 87 of Codex U (likewise Museo delle Cattedrale), moreover, includes an almost identical depiction of the fool with a crosier (exh. cat. Florence 1982, illustration on p. 461). All these stylistic and compositional parallels strongly suggest an attribution of the present psalter to the workshop of Bartolomeo Varnucci. The border on fol. 15 echoes the colouring of the historiated initials. It was not completed: the inner field which the laurel wreath in the lower margin encircles was left blank. When looked at under bright light one can discern a faded pencil note: far ihs: the monogram of Christ. The large initial ‘P’ at the beginning of the hymnal is decorated with red penwork that extends to the full height of the page. It might be the work of a third illuminator or the scribe himself.
LITERATURE: The manuscript is hitherto unpublished. Exh. cat. Florence 1982, pp. 432-446; Garzelli 1985, pp. 29- 31, fig. 53, 73-81; Pasut 2004 (with extensive bibliography). On the binding cf. Hobson/Quaquarelli 1998, no.15.