Unrecorded Ordo that survives as important evidence of the cultural heritage of a major Florentine foundation. Made for the famous Vallumbrosan convent in Florence, the monastery of St.-John the Evangelist, founded by Saint Umiltà (twice depicted in the manuscript), it includes accomplished illumination by Monte di Giovanni and a fine original binding of a type found also on another manuscript by illuminated by him.
1. Copied in 1518, when Dianora de Maclavellis was abbess, at the command of Sister Leonarda de Masis, for use by the nuns at the monastery of St.-John the Evangelist of the Vallumbrosan Order at the gate of Faenza in Florence. The colophon (f. 84v) reads: "Deo et genetrice gloriose virgini Marie et Beate Humilitati, librum istum scribere feci Soror Leonarda de masis devotione ducta, pro monasterio sancti Johannis evangeliste, ordinis Vallisumbrose ad portam Faventies anno domini M o CCCCCo. Xo. VIIIo Domina Dianora de Maclavellis existente eiusdem monasterii abbatissa." Occasional marginal annotations include an additional prayer for the blessing of the ring (f. 16v). The fact that the original binding is very similar to one on another manuscript by Monte del Fora (Bibl. Vaticana, Barberini lat. 610, a Breviary for Mattias Corvinus; see Marinis, CLXXXI, no. 1150; and d'Ancona, II, no. 1426) helps circumscribe further the production.
2. W. A. Foyle, Beeleigh Abbey: bookplate (not in the Foyle sale, London, Christie's, 11 July 2000).
The subjects of the portrait roundels are:
f. 1, St. John the Evangelist with pen, book and eagle ;
f. 6v, St. Umiltà;
The subjects of the historiated initials are :
f. 1, The rite of profession: a novice stands before a bishop, the community of nuns in the background;
f. 6v, St. John Gualbert;
f. 44, St. Umiltà;
f. 60, St. John the Evangelist, looking over his shoulder at his symbol, an eagle;
f. 60v, A bishop with miter and crozier accompanied by two clerics.
The decoration of this manuscript may be securely attributed to Monte di Giovanni del Fora (1448-1532/1533), one of the leading Florentine illuminators of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. From the 1460s Monte, together with his brother Gherardo (ca. 1444-1497), received commissions from the most prestigious religious orders and the most eminent families. He illuminated liturgical books for Florentine churches, and in the 1480's they decorated several luxurious manuscripts for the library of Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary. After Gherardo's death, Monte continued to work on similar commissions, including a series of Choir books illuminated between 1514 and 1521 for the Duomo of Florence.
The decorative vocabulary of the present manuscript corresponds closely to that of the Choir books. The motifs of the monochrome border of classicizing elements and cherubim on a burnished gold ground is repeated in the initials of the Choir books, as is the surround of tiny gold dots, each elaborately pen-flourished (see the initial H from Florence, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Codice C, reproduced in Garzelli, fig. 1016). The faces of the acolytes in the initial on f. 60 are echoed in the faces of young clerics and angels in the Choir books (see Garzelli, fig. 1017, 1019), and the face of St. John Gualbert on f. 6v occurs again as the face of St. Peter in a miniature of Pentecost (Garzelli, fig. 1025, from Codice F). Both Codice C and Codice F were illuminated between 1519 and 1521, according to the accounts of the Opera del Duomo, making them contemporary with the illumination of the pontifical of St. John the Evangelist.
Since much of Monte's work for the Duomo was destroyed or badly damaged in the Florence flood of 1966, this previously unrecorded example of his artistic production becomes a significant witness to his talent in this period of his career. According to Garzelli: "Monte's illumination is characterized by its exuberant imagery, rich invention, sophisticated intellectual play and extremely versatile brushwork."
Beginning only three years after the death of the saint from 1313 to 1348, a disciple of Pietro Lorenzetti, now known as the Master of the Beata Umiltà, painted an altarpiece for the convent with scenes of the life of the saint (now Florence, Uffizi), and Orgagna executed a sculpture of her (now Baptistry of the Church of San Michele at San Salvi). These deluxe commissions suggest a rich artistic culture within the convent, which must have been well-subsidized by wealthy patrons. The present manuscript joins this small group of extant works associated with the nuns of St.-John the Evangelist.
D'Ancona, M. Levi. La miniatura fiorentina: secoli XI-XVI, 2 vols., Florence, 1914.
Garzelli, A., Miniatura fiorentina del rinascimento, 2 vols. Florence, 1985.
Frinta, M. "Deletions from the Oeuvre of Pietro Lorenzetti and Related Works by the Master of Beata Umiltà, Mino Parcis da Siena and Jacopo di Mino del Pellicciaio," Mitt. Kunsthist. Inst. Florenz 20 (1976), pp. 271-300.
"Life of St. Umiltà, Abbess of the Vallombrosan Order in Florence," in Consolation of the Blessed, trans. Elizabeth Petroff, New York, Alta Gaia Society, 1979, pp. 121-127.
Marinis, Tammaro de. La Legatura artistica in Italia nel secoli XV & XVI, Florence, Fratelli Alinari, 1960.
Life of Saint Umiltà, illustrated with the famous polyptych by the school of Pietro Lorenzetti
Life of Saint Umiltà, Abbess of the Vallombrosan Order in Florence. (Digital text of Petroff's translation).