Western and Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures | 06 December 2017

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Lot no.


Vitae Patrum, in Latin, large decorated Romanesque manuscript on parchment...

Sold for £80000

Est: £80000–120000

Vitae Patrum, in Latin, large decorated Romanesque manuscript on parchment [Central Italy (Rieti, in Lazio), first half of the twelfth century (probably second quarter)]

143 leaves, complete, collation: i-xvii8, xviii7 (last a cancelled blank), contemporary gathering signature in roman numerals at end of each gathering, ruled in drypoint for double column of 33 lines in a fine Italian Romanesque hand, small simple red initials (some with ornamental penwork flourishes) with following letters touched in red, larger initials in red penwork outlines or split red bars with stylised foliage flourishes at edges, one large initial ‘G’ (opening “Gloria et magnificentia …”, the opening of the Vita of St. Macharius) in pale iridescent yellow (probably to mimic gold) set within tightly winding white-vine shoots on red grounds, all within simple penwork square frame, remains of scribe’s doodle at base of fol. 96v (perhaps an animal with a snub-nose, open mouth and arched back), pastedowns from late twelfth-century Italian liturgical manuscripts (both with biting curves, one with a large coloured initial), small stains and tiny hole or so to first and last leaves, gentle cockling, some natural flaws leading to holes in leaves, fol. 80 slightly shrunk at base and drawn away from spine, inkstain to upper fore-edge (visible only when codex is closed, no affect inside volume), slight trimming, overall in excellent and fresh condition on fine ivory-white parchment with wide and clean margins, 310 by 210mm.; contemporary binding of massive wooden boards (each board approximately 10mm. thick), sewn on three large double-thongs, all covered in reversed calf, remnants of two late medieval metal clasps at edges, sixteenth- or seventeenth-century paper label on spine (mostly gone, with “…ii . Pa[trum]” remaining, and title in ink there: “Vita Mac / S57”, small holes from worm and clasps, a rectangular section of lower edge of board (40 by 20mm.) snapped away, that most probably where a chain hasp was attached, thongs separated at front and back, small cracks at edges of spine and sections at top and bottom of spine skillfully replaced but mostly in unrestored state, solid in binding, with several lengths of rough twine perhaps once used as bookmarks, these loose in the codex’s felt-lined fitted case

An elegant Romanesque codex from an important cathedral library in central Italy, in large-scale format and still in its first binding

1. From the medieval library of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunti, in Rieti, north east of Rome: their ex libri at end of main text in a tiny thirteenth-century secretarial hand, “Iste liber est de ecclesie Reatina” and “Iste liber est de ecclesie Reatense”. This almost certainly the “Vitae patrum” listed among the books in the cathedral’s treasury inventory of 1353 (Rieti, Arch. Cap. Lib. IV perg, ff. 46r-47v, summarised by R. Brentano, A New World in a Small Place: Church and Religion in the Diocese of Rieti , 1994, p. 30). Rieti Cathedral began to be constructed in 1109 on the site of a pre-existing basilica, and was completed and consecrated in 1225. The city was besieged in 1143 by King Roger of Naples, and reportedly razed to the ground. It was a wealthy site in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and was able to exploit the fact that it had been presented to the papacy by Emperor Otto I in 962 and so lay under the direct protection of the Pope, but being so far from the capital was allowed its own local magistrates and administrators. The episcopal palace there was a favourite summer retreat for the Papacy (and that palace linked to the cathedral by private walkway), and it was the town that Pope Nicholas IV briefly moved the Papal Curia to in 1288, having been driven out of the Vatican by warring factions in Rome. The present manuscript is likely to date from the oldest part of the library there, and rank among the founding books of the community, perhaps produced under papal patronage to reinvigorate Christian worship after the assault of Roger of Naples.
2. Eighteenth- or nineteenth-century private collection label, blue edged and apparently Italian, with no. ‘6’, pasted inside front board, other pen notes “E60” and “650” in margins of first leaf.
3. Private Swiss collector, included in Joern Gunther, Parchment and Gold: 25 Years of Dr Jörn Günther Rare Books , Cat. 11, 2015, no. 2.


This codex contains: Pseudo-Theophilus, Vita vel conversatio beati Macharii heremite (fols. 1r-8r; Migne, Pat. Lat . 73, 415-26), Adhortationes sanctorum partum ad profectum perfectionis monachorum (fols. 8v-32v, including fols. 8r-12v, De profectu Patrum , Pat. Lat. 73, 855-57), Rufinus Aquileiensis, Historia Monachorum seu Liber de vitis Patrum (fol. 109r-25v), Pseudo-Cyprian, De duodecim abusionibus saeculi tractatus (fols. 134v-43r, Pat. Lat. 4, 947-60). This is in agreement with the text and chapter list added to the verso of the last leaf in a thirteenth- or fourteenth-century hand.


Perhaps due to a rapid period of essential book production in the wake of the destruction of the cathedral in 1143, this stately codex seems to have spent the first few decades of its life in a loose tacketed binding only. It is evidently still in its first binding, and the massive scale of that with notably solid and heavy boards and only three sewing stations argues strongly for the twelfth century rather than any later. Confirmation of this impression can be found in an inscription describing the contents of the volume, written upside-down in tiny script on the foot of the pastedown of the front board, which is in a twelfth-century hand. However, confusingly, the leaves used as pastedowns date paleographically to the late twelfth century. They were probably not taken from manuscripts which had been used to the point of reasonable wear, then discarded and repurposed, but may instead be discarded sheets from the scriptorium at Rieti, set aside as waste material due to errors or changes in the planning of the codices for which they were intended. If correct, then their mutual dates of post c . 1180, but before the end of the twelfth century, gives us a relatively accurate date on the binding here.

Western and Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures

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