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les Enluminures

Jerome, Epistolae (Letters)

In Latin, illuminated manuscript on parchment
Italy (Florence), c. 1430-1440

TM 1029
  • 159.600 €
  • £135,700
  • $175,000


ii + 353 folios, incorrect modern foliation 1-134, 134bis-132, complete(collation i5 [2 bifolia and i singleton] ii-xxxvi10), catchwords and traces of signatures, ruled in hard point (justification 225 x 165 mm.),  written in an early humanistic bookhand with some gothic features in a greenish black ink on 35 long lines, rubrics in pale red, blank spaces left for Greek, 2-line introductory initials throughout in gold with white vine-stems on green, red and blue grounds, two very large vine-stem initials (ff. 5v and 6) in gold against green, light pink and blue grounds, one partial border (f. 6) of the same with a finely drawn putto holding a shield (still blank), slightly discolored vertical crease on f. i, otherwise in wonderfully fresh con­dition. Bound in modern crimson velvet over pasteboard, the spine restored. Dimensions 353 x 255 mm.

This majestic early Florentine humanistic manuscript offers very fine examples of minuscule script and white vine-stem decoration associated in the 1430s with the important scriptorium of S. Maria degli Angeli, the artistic home of Lorenzo Monaco, Fra Angelico, and many other celebrated Italian painter-illuminators. At one time possibly in the library of Bernardo Bembo, Venetian nobleman, important humanist, and envoy to the court of Lorenzo de’ Medici, it includes marginal notes and maniculae thought to be by his own hand. Owned more recently by Major J. R. Abbey, Peter and Irene Ludwig, and the J. Paul Getty Museum and on long-term deposit at the Parker Library in Cambridge.


1. Written and decorated in Florence in the 1430s, possibly in the scriptorium of S. Maria degli Angeli (see below); a shield in the partial border on f. 6 has been left blank.

2. Possibly later in the library of Bernardo Bembo (1433-1519), Venetian nobleman, important humanist, envoy to the court of Lorenzo de’ Medici, and father of Pietro Bembo (1470-1547). A. C. de la Mare has suggested that some of the marginal notes and maniculae might be in Bembo's hand (Von Euw and Plotzek, 1981, pp. 54-55).

3. Several erasures on verso of first flyleaf, with the outline of a red oval library stamp still visible; on the same page, but of later vintage, is the no. 607 in pencil.

4. Charles H. St. J. Hornby (1876-1946), MS 87; bought from Jacques Rosenthal on August 10, 1932 (according to note in pencil on front pastedown).

5. Major J. R. Abbey (1894-1969), with engraved bookplate inside front cover, MS 32.27 (note in blue ink on back paste-down: JA 3227,15:9:46; bought with the Hornby collection in 1946); his sale, London, Sotheby's, March 25, 1975, lot 2957.

6. Peter and Irene Ludwig, Aachen, MS XI 2; their usual book­ plates inside front cover.

7. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, MS Ludwig XI 2.

8. James and Elizabeth Ferrell Collection, on long-term deposit at the Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.


ff. 1-3v, Table of contents for the 149 letters and tracts with numbers, titles and incipits: Indpiunt epistole sancti leronimi presbiteri per ordinem infrascripte; [f. 4rv ruled but blank];

ff. 5-351, Incipiunt epistole sancta Ieronimi presbiteri per ordinem infrascripte, …”; Epistola Damasi papae ad leronimum super tribus questionibus libri Geneseos. Prima, incipit, “Dormientem te et longo iam tempore …”; … Rescripta leronimi presbiteri ad papam Damasum de septem indicti Cain. Epistola tertia, incipit, “Beatissimo papae Damaso Hieronymus ...”; [ff. 351v-352v, ruled but blank].

149 Letters of St. Jerome, including exegetical, hagiographical and polemical texts that were either written by St. Jerome or written to him; for a detailed list of the contents, see Alexander and de la Mare, 1969, pp. 29-30; and Von Euw and Plotzek, 1982, pp. 52 and 54.

St. Jerome (327/30-420 A.D.) is best known for his translation from Greek and revision of the Bible called the Vulgate. Perhaps second in importance only to his Bible translation are his Letters, long recognized for their immense erudition, rhetorical style, and timely evocation of the events (and people) of the late Roman Christian era. In many of his letters, Jerome directly addresses his project of biblical scholarship.  Jerome was a prolific letter writer, and some 154 epistles are attributed to him (modern scholars generally accept 123 as genuine), composed between 370 and 419, and varying in length from a few lines to several thousand words, which in Hilberg’s monumental edition fill nearly 1600 pages; edited in CSEL 54-56, originally published in 1910, 1912 and 1918, now in a second, revised edition published in 1996, and in Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol. 22; good introductions in Labourt, vol. I, pp. XLI-LVI, Cain, 2009, and Conring, 2001. There is a complete translation in French (Labourt, 1949-1963), and partial English translation (Online Resources); editions and translations are listed in Pentiti and Cerroni, 1990, pp. 31-5. The census of manuscripts conducted by Lambert (1969) lists more than 7,000 manuscripts including at least one or more of Jerome’s Epistles (Lambert, Bibliotheca Hieronymiana Manuscripta, 1969, volumes 1A and B).

Not surprisingly, humanist scholars admired Jerome, and the present manuscript offers an unusually fine example, in immaculate fresh condition, of Jerome’s Letters from the Florentine Renaissance. The classicizing script, elegant painted putti, and white-vine decoration reveal a conscious imitation of antiquity. According to A. C. de la Mare (Alexander and de la Mare, 1969), the present selection of letters is closely related to that of another fifteenth-century volume with the ex libris of Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici (Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana, MS 19.12). The headings are similar, and in the first half of the two manuscripts the ordering is nearly identical; in the second halves, the ordering varies considerably, but the contents are almost the same. Our manuscript also corresponds in contents (and in the ordering of the first 78 letters) to a tenth-to eleventh-century example in the Vatican (MS Lat. 341).

Humanistic script, which was “invented” in Florence at the very beginning of the fifteenth century by the young Poggio Bracciolini, is generally divided into three characteristic stages (see Alexander and de la Mare, 1969, pp. xxiii):  the experimental stage of c. 1400 to c. 1435-1440, the developed stage of c. 1435-1440 to c. 1480-1490, and the late stage of the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth centuries. The present man­uscript is a quintessential example of the first stage. While the text was written in a minuscule that is entirely humanistic, there is still a great deal of gothic influence – in the forms of capitals, in the sometimes-heavy lines, and in the compact spacing.  A. C. de la Mare has identified at least one other manuscript certainly by the same scribe and with similar decoration: a Columella, now in London, which is said to have come from the Badia of Fiesole (British Library, Add. MS 17295).


The decoration of this manuscript is as quintessentially Florentine as its script. The white vine-stems that trail around the letters and define the partial border on f. 6 are one of the most characteristic features of humanist manuscripts. They were associated in the contemporary consciousness with antiquity, but like the script, they were derived from eleventh- and twelfth-century models. The elegant putto sup­porting the shield on f. 6 is, however, an adaptation from ancient Roman art, and while putti would become one of the constant features of Renaissance illumination, it is during the period to which this manuscript belongs that they first come into widespread use.

There is a large group of Florentine manuscripts with identi­cal or very similar decoration, including the Columella men­tioned above; two Chronicles of Eusebius copied in Florence by Antonio di Mario, the first in 1435 (Vatican, MS Lat. 243), the second in 1437 (with initials only; Vienna, Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 344); a Dionysius Areopagita trans­lated by Ambrogio Traversari, written in 1436 or later (Padua, Bibl. Capit., MS C. 27); Cicero, Letters, copied by Johannes Andreae de Colonia in 1437 (full page frame border; Madrid, Escorial, MS T. II. 2); a Livy in Oxford (New College, MS 277) and a Cicero, Orationes, in London (British Library, MS Add. 16980) that were copied by the same scribe; a Leonardo Bruni in Oxford (Bodleian Library, MS Buchanan c. 1); and a Nonius Marcellus, also in Oxford (Corpus Christi College, MS 91).

Another feature of interest is that some initials are unfin­ished: on ff.  50v and 310v just the outlines were drawn (in ink over metal point) with the pink bole supplied for the gold; on f. 136 there is only an ink outline; while on a few other folios the initials are missing altogether (e.g., ff. 140, 212. and 310).

Given its connections to the manuscripts cited above, the present copy can be associated with the scriptorium of S. Maria degli Angeli in Florence (see Alexander and de la Mare, 1969, pp. xxv and xxxiv). The convent became an important site for the development of humanistic script and decoration under the stewardship of Ambrogio Traversari (1356-1439), first a monk and then, from 1431, the prior general of the Camaldolese Order.  Traversari moved freely in humanist circles and was an important early advocate for the “new” script, which he active­ly encouraged his monks to learn. The use of the characteristic white vine-stem decoration in this context is exemplified by the Dionysius Areopagita manuscript, which Battista di Biagio Sanguigni illuminated for Traversari in 1436 or just after (Padua, Bibl. Capit., MS C. 27). Our manuscript does not appear itself to have been decorated by Sanguigni, but its illuminator must have belonged to his immediate circle (see Von Euw and Plotzek 1982, p. 56).


Alexander, Jonathan J. G. and Albinia C. de la Mare, The Italian Manuscripts in the Library of Major J. R. Abbey, London, 1969, no. 8 (MS 3227), pp. xxv and xxxiv, and pl. XII.

Cain, Andrew. The Letters of Jerome: Asceticism, Biblical Exegesis, and the Construction of Christian Authority in Late Antiquity, Oxford and New York, 2009.

Conring, B. Hieronymus als Briefschreiber, Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum 8, Tübingen, 2001.

Hilberg, Isidorus, ed. Sancti Eusebii Hieronymi Epistulae, Corpus scriptorum ecclesisticorum latinorum, 54-56, second edition, with Margit Kamptner, ed., Vienna, 1996 (first edition, Vienna, 1910-1918).

Labourt, J. Saint Jerome. Lettres, Paris, Belles-Lettres, tome I [1949] – tome VIII [1963].

Lambert, Bernard. Bibliotheca Hieronymiana manuscripta. La tradition manuscrite des œuvres de Saint Jérôme, Steenbruges, Martinus Nijhoff, 1969-72.

Pentiti, G. Asdrubali and M. Carla Spadoni Cerroni, eds. Epistolari cristiani : secc. I-V: repertorio bibliografico, Epistolari latini, Rome, 1990.

Rice, Eugene F. Saint Jerome in the Renaissance, Baltimore, 1985.

Römer, R. Die handschriftliche Uberlieferung der Werke des Heiligen Augustinus 11/1.2 Grossbritannien und Irland, Vienna, 1972, p. 281.

Settimana del libro antico e raro (IV Fiera Internazionale del Libro, Catalogo di 100 preziosi volumi), Florence, Istituto Italiano del Libro, 1, no. 13, pl. XI (as belonging to Jacques Rosenthal).

von Euw, A. and J. Plotzek, Die Handschriften der Sammlung Ludwig, vol. 3, Cologne, 1981, pp. 52-56, figs. 13 (f. 5v) and 14 (f. 2.2,6).

Online Resources

Letters of St. Jerome (English)


Jerome’s Letters, and other works (listing editions and translations and summarizing contents)

TM 1029