TextmanuscriptTextmanuscripts - Les Enluminures

les Enluminures

ANONYMOUS, Stemme veneziane

In Italian and Latin, illustrated manuscript on paper
[Italy, Venice, ca. 1560]

TM 255

ii + 46 + iii leaves, complete (collation undetermined because of problems in modern re-sewing), on paper (150 x 216 mm), two unidentified watermarks not find in Briquet or Piccard (couronne à trios fleurons et deux demi; couronne à trios fleurons et deux demi sourmeteé de un ètoile), no foliation or catchwords, written in brown and red ink in an elegant italic bookhand, primary text in brown ink, rubrication used to describe notable deeds of the doges, single column text, justification in single horizontal and vertical lines by hard point, horizontal ruling in brown ink dividing page, writing space 155 x 100 mm.), 12 to 23 lines per page, one and two line initials in Roman script, NINETY-TWO ILLUSTRATED AND PAINTED COATS OF ARMS (55 x 75 mm.) with the last five dating to the late sixteenth century, ink corrosion damaging text on ff. 1-3, 7-8, 14-16, 35-40, and 44, ink corrosion damaging coats of arms on ff. 1, 7, 8, 14, 35-40, and 44, coat of arms hollowed out on f. 45v, corrosion damaging text dividers on ff. 31-33, tear in upper right gutter on f. 18, minor soiling to edges, heavy soiling on f. 46v, browning throughout, some mildew stains and slight water damage, heavy spotting on f. 21 not affecting text, marginal mathematical computations in brown ink on f. 46v, marginalia around the upper shield on f. 21v in a hand contemporary with the original scribe, text additions in a later sixteenth-century italic script in brown ink on ff. 45r and 46r, marginalia in modern cursive hand in pencil on ff. 1r, 3r, and 30r. Bound in nineteenth-century limp vellum over cardboard, gilded title on front cover “STEMME VENEZIANE.”, modern heavy paper used as front and rear pastedowns and flyleaves, one original front flyleaf with moderate soiling, chipping and holes on edges, rear pastedown slightly separating from board, bookplate on front inside cover (see below), modern catalogue information in pencil on front inside cover “366”, modern provenance information in pencil on front recto side of first front flyleaf (see below), eighteenth-century provenance and title in brown ink on recto side of original front flyleaf (see below), catalogue information on rear pastedown “JJSS Ru 7100 MS07.” Dimensions 218 x 157 mm.

John Ruskin’s copy of an elegantly written and beautifully painted epitome of the history of the doges of Venice with their accompanying heraldic devices. The manuscript is an important witness to the use of heraldry as a historical source among early modern Italians and its documentation of the family shields, often a means of clarifying family relationships and their importance to political and marriage alliances.


1. Written and illustrated in Venice, circa 1560, for the last doge included by the original scribe in his history dates the manuscript: Lorenzo Priuli (1556-1559).

2. Matteo Realti. Ownership inscription in florid eighteenth-century cursive script dated November 1734. “Anno 1734 Mensis Novembrii Mattio Realiti Libro di Arme de Duci Nomen Venetiae [?] Pater.” Information found on recto side of front original fly leaf.

3. John Ruskin (1819-1900). The most famous Victorian art critic, essayist, politic writer and member of the arts and crafts movement, Ruskin has been noted as the father of modern art criticism, having set the standard for the description and evaluation of pre-modern and modern art. His extensive writings included history, religion, politics, art, belle lettres, and art criticism. Provenance information found on recto side of front modern flyleaf in modern cursive hand in pencil (Possibly that of W.A. Foyle). “Ex Libris John Ruskin. Bought Sotheby’s May 18, 1931. M.S. Venice 16th Cent. Arms of the Doges.”

4. William Alfred Foyle (1885-1963). Noted London bookseller, who gathered one of the largest private collections in England after purchasing Beeleigh Abbey in 1943. Ex libris maroon and gilded leather bookplate on inside front cover. “EX LIBRIS W.A. FOYLE BEELEIGH ABBEY.” Bookplate has a coat of arms with six fleur-des-lis set over a scroll with the motto “ANIMO ET FIDE.” The coat of arms and owner’s information is set within a gilded four panel decorative frame surmounted by a half clam shell.


ff. 1r-44v Stemme veneziane, incipit, “Et venniti cussi in inteditii lochi, et insole, fatenano fra loro et constituinamo una istessa obedientia…”; explicit, “Sepulto nella Chiesia de San Saluador permezo lo organo.”

An anonymous scribe, who likely also served as the artist, composed this manuscript as a convenient historical source for the history of the Venetian doges. An elegant italic book hand and the careful relationship between the text and the nicely painted shields show the work of an accomplished scribe. The manuscript begins with a brief history of the foundations of Venice. The scribe composed the history of the doges from Paoluccio Anafesto (697-717) to Lorenzo Priuli (1556-1559), whose shield was included but not his biography. The remainder of the manuscript alternates between a page containing heraldic devices followed by a brief description of the doge that corresponds to the device found on the facing page. Each page is divided into two compartments, separated by a dividing line. Two heraldic devices are found on the verso of each page, while the facing recto provides a brief history of the doge that corresponds to the heraldic device. The primary text is written in Italian. However, significant accomplishments by particular doges are composed in Latin and in rubric at the end of each biography. A later scribe added the Sebastiano Venier (1578-1585), placed wrongly opposite Lorenzo Priuli’s shield, and Pasqual Cigonga (1585-1595).

The ownership of this manuscript by John Ruskin is of singular importance to the famous art critic’s writings on Venice. The manuscript was likely purchased during his numerous stays in the city. Ruskin visited Venice for the first time in 1835 and for the last time in 1888. Several of Ruskin’s theories on art developed during his time in Venice, particularly on his third visit in 1845. In his work, Modern Painters, Ruskin elaborated his view that Venice embodied in its city and art the basis of the Romantic Movement on account of its blend of aesthetics and republican form of government. During his two long visits to Venice between 1849 and 1852, Ruskin composed his three-volume Stones of Venice, an history of the architecture of Venice (1851-1853), which is distinguished for its combination of early art criticism, historical research, and Romanticist style of writing. Ruskin also saw Venice as a model for government, which can be seen in his Fors Clavigera, composed between the years 1871-78 and 1880-84. Ruskin's trip to Venice in 1876-1877 led him to publish a work entitled St. Mark's Rest, a tour guide that portrays Venice as a shrine to the combination of aesthetic beauty and man's genius for artistic production. Given Ruskin's intense historical interest and writings on Venice, it is likely that he purchased the manuscript as an aid to his historical research and writings.


Each brief biography of the doges of Venice is accompanied by the doge’s coat of arms. The coats of arms were original traced in pencil, then outlined in brown ink. The coats of arms have single line border, primarily in red, but also in white and white and red. Each shield is surmounted by three fleurons placed on the center and corner of the shield. The respective hat of each doge is placed on top of the center fleuron. The first twelve doges’ hats are red with a triangular crown. The remaining doges’ hats, from 780 onward, are the style used in the Renaissance: gold base and two-pointed hat with a gold part splitting each point. One doge, Orso Orsuol, has the hat of the Patriarch of Grao. The emblems within the shields are drawn with fine penwork in dark brown ink similar to that of the primary text. Bold red and blue paint are the primary colors, though a pale is also used. From the manner of the pen work and the basic colors used in the painting it is likely that the scribe also served as the painter of the manuscript.

On ff. 44v-46v a second and third scribe inserted additional coats of arms on the blank leaves of the original manuscript. The first scribe/artist, likely from the late sixteenth-century, drew and painted the coats of arms for the doges that reigned between 1577 and 1595. These coats of arms are modeled on the original artwork, but with less ability and execution in style. He also supplied the biographical information for Sebastiano Venier, which was left incomplete by the original scribe on f. 45r. A third artist composed two incomplete, unidentified and poorly executed coats of arms on f. 46v in light brown pen work and a yellow wash. This artist followed the style of the previous coats of arms, but reversed the position of the doge’s hat from the right to the left.


Batchelor, John. John Ruskin: A Life, New York, Carroll & Graf, 2000.

Bell, Quentin. Ruskin, New York, G. Braziller, 1978.

Boholm, Åsa. The Doge of Venice: The Symbolism of State Power in the Renaissance, Gothenburg, Institute for Advanced Studies in Social Anthropology, University of Gothenburg, 1990.

Chambers, David. The Imperial age of Venice, 1380-1580, London, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970.

Colangeli, Oronzo. Simboli et bandiere nella storia del Risorgimento italiano, Bologna, Casa Editrice R. Pátron, 1965.

Gambier, Henri. The Doges of Venice: A Small History of the Republic of Venice, Venice, Ferd. Ongania, 1946.

Graziato, Gisella, ed. Le promissioni del doge di Venezia: dalle origini alla fine del Duecento, Venezia, Comitato editore, 1986.

Guelfi Camajani, Piero. Dizionario araldico, 3rd edition, Bologna, Arnaldo Forni, 1940.

McNeill, William Hardy. Venice: The Hinge of Europe, 1081-1797, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1974.

Ruskin, John. The Stones of Venice, New York, J. Wiley & Sons, 1889.

Ruskin, John. St. Mark's Rest: The History of Venice Written for the Help of the Few Travellers who Still Care for Her Monuments, New York, Wiley, 1884.

Shapiro, Harold, ed. Ruskin in Italy: Letters to his Parents, 1845, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1972.

Spreti, V. Enciclopedia storico-nobiliare italiana, 6 vols., Milan, 1928.

Unrau, John. St. Mark’s and Ruskin, London, Thames and Hudson, 1984.

Whittick, Arnold, ed. Ruskin's Venice, New York, Whitney Library of Design, 1976.

Williamson, David. Debrett’s Guide to Heraldry and Regalia, London, Headline Book Publishing PLC, 1992.

Woodcock, Thomas and John Martin Robinson. The Oxford Guide to Heraldry, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988.

Zorzi, Alvise. Venice, 697-1797: A City, a Republic, an Empire, Woodstock, NY, Overlook Press, 2001.

Online resources

Brief Biographical information on John Ruskin

The John Ruskin Centre at Lancaster University

John Ruskin’s Stones of Venice

Chronological listing of the doges of Venice

Brief history of the duties of the doges of Venice

Doge’s Palace in Venice

Heraldry of the doges of Venice