A rare vellum copy of Boccaccio’s famous novel illuminated by one of the major Florentine artists of the Renaissance
30 Giovanni Boccaccio, Elegia di Madonna FiammettaManuscript on vellum in Italian, illuminated by Attavante degli Attavanti. Italy, Florence, c. 1480.
267 x 183 mm. 128 leaves, text complete: I-XII10, XIII10-1. Catchwords throughout. – Written space: 183 x 90 mm, 27 lines per page.Text in Italian, in a neat humanistic script in dark brown ink. 133 two-line initials in gold on blue ground with white penwork decoration and filled with pink and green with yellow penwork. 8 five- to six-line vine-stem initials. Title page with full border and historiated initial. – Some rubbing to the title page, the right lower corner of fol. 103 replaced, otherwise in fine condition. Final leaf of the last quire pasted onto the back cover. – Contemporary binding: Northern Italian, probably Venetian, not later than 1510 (cf. De Marinis 1960, vol. 2, p. 1616, pl. CCLXXV and De Marinis 1966, p. 118), blind-tooled brown calf over wooden boards, using four different tools, four raised bands, gilt edges. One vellum flyleaf at the front, clasps missing, ends of spine expertly restored.
PROVENANCE: 1. In the lower border of fol. 1 an unidentified coat-of-arms is incorporated, presumably belonging to the patron of the manuscript. 2. An old inscription in the lower margin of the title page reads: “S. Ambrosii Nemoris medio ...”. Since 1441 the Congregatio fratrum S. Ambrosii ad Nemus Mediolanensis denotes the Ambrosian order in Milan founded in the mid- 14th century. 3.Trivulzio Collection, Milan, cod. 2142.The manuscripts of this collection, founded and formed in the first half of the 18th century by Duke Alessandro Teodoro Trivulzio (1694-1763) and his brother,Abbot Carlo Trivulzio (1715-89), came mainly from private and ecclesiastical libraries in Milan.The largest part of the collection was acquired by the city of Milan in 1935 (Biblioteca Trivulziana). 4. Collection of Conte Paolo Gerli, Milan. 5. Private collection Switzerland.
TEXT: Written between 1343 and 1344, the Elegia di Madonna Fiammetta counts among the principal works of Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-75), together with his famous Decamerone. The Elegia consists of nine chapters and a prologue addressed to all women in love. It is a first person narrative, in which the main character, Fiammetta, relates to her female friends her love for Panfilo and her grief upon the sudden ending of their relationship. For the first time in literature a woman takes the part of the main character, and the author displays remarkable psychological empathy. The novel has an autobiographical background.The protagonist can be identified with Maria d’Aquino, daughter of King Robert of Anjou, with whom Boccaccio had a passionate, yet unhappy love affair during his sojourn in Naples. Contrary to the novel, however, it was Maria d’Aquino who abandoned her lover, which has given rise to the interpretation that the author intended to take revenge in composing his Fiammetta. Boccaccio’s high reputation in humanistic Florence is also evidenced by the large number of surviving manuscripts of his works. Vittore Branca records 73 manuscripts of the Fiammetta, mainly dating from the Quattrocento (Branca 1958, pp. 30-36; Branca 1991, p. 12, pp. 29-31 and Branca 1994, pp. 193-199). Apart from a codex in New York our copy is the only one in private hands.All other codices are in public libraries, three in the United States (De Ricci/Wilson 1935-40/Reprint 1961, vol. 1, p. 590, no. 540 and p. 842, no. 490; vol. 2, p. 1658, no. 17), while the majority are in Italian collections. Only 14 manuscripts are written on vellum.
ILLUMINATION: Characteristic of Italian humanistic codices Boccaccio’s Fiammetta opens with a richly illuminated frontispiece with a full border set within a gold frame.The principal decorative elements are “bianchi girari”, white wine stems symmetrically arranged in curling scrolls and subtly modelled with light brown colour. The spaces between the foliage are filled with blue, green and pink. Interspersed are medallions, putti holding burning candelabra, birds and two lions.The lower border incorporates the busts of a young lady and of a young gentleman, both rendered in profile, most probably the protagonists of the novel. In a medallion in the right border a bearded man holding a rod is depicted. The eight-line initial ‘S’ opening the text is filled with a portrait of the author in profile holding a book.This motif is a recurring element in the illumination of Boccaccio manuscripts. The delicately modelled portraits, the extremely fine tendrils and foliage and the muted and soft colours create a title page of elegant and sophisticated character. The illumination is attributable to Vante di Gabriello di Vante Attavanti (1452- 1520/25), known as Attavante, the principal illuminator of the Florentine Renaissance, whose fame rapidly spread across the borders of Italy (cf. also our no. 49). The catalogue of this highly prolific artist is extensive and still increasing (Galizzi 2004). A pupil of the Florentine illuminator Francesco di Antonio del Chierico, Attavante was involved in the illumination of the antiphonary for the cathedral of Florence in 1471-72 (Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, ms. Edili 148). Other prominent commissions include the famous two-volume Bible of Federico da Montefeltro (Rome, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, urb. lat. 1 and 2) where the two artists worked again side by side. In the 1480s Attavante illuminated a breviary (ibid., urb. lat. 112) and a missal (Brussels, Bibliothèque royale, ms. 9008) for Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, and in 1494 he signed a contract for the decoration of the seven-volume Bible of King John of Portugal (Lisbon, Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo). In his hometown Attavante’s most important patrons were the Medici family who considered him as their “miniatore di famiglia”. His involvement with the family begun under Lorenzo il Magnifico found a direct continuation in the numerous commissions for the Medici Pope Leo X (1513-21).
LITERATURE: Porro 1884, pp. 476-477; D’Ancona 1914, vol. 2, p. 320; Branca 1958, p. 32; Branca 1999, vol. 2, p. 126, no. 35; vol. 3, p. 322. De Ricci/Wilson 1935-40/Reprint 1961; De Marinis 1960 and 1966; Garzelli 1985; Branca 1991 and 1994; Galizzi 2004.