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MLN 119.1 Supplement (2004) S142-S161

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The Origins of the De ornatu mulierum of Antoninus of Florence

Thomas M. Izbicki
The Johns Hopkins University

Some time in 1439, on an unspecified date, a Bolognese tailor was denied absolution by a Franciscan Observant because he made clothing that seemed vain and sinful to his confessor. This must have sat badly with the tailor or troubled the friars themselves. Eventually the guardian of the convent at San Paolo in Monte asked the leading legal light of the Observant movement, Franciscus de Platea, 1 to petition Pope Eugenius IV for advice. Eugenius was engaged at that time in the double labors of presiding over the council of union being held at Florence and resisting the threat of the Council of Basel and its chosen pope, Felix V, to his tenure of the see of Peter. 2 Nonetheless, Eugenius was considered a friend of the Franciscan Observants, although he was not able to win their battle with the Conventuals for them; and at least one Observant, John Capistran, responded by writing a treatise favorable to papal power. (This work may have been the first highly favorable treatment of papal power written by a Minorite after the time of Alvarus Pelagius, a defender of John XXII in his quarrels with the Spirituals and the Michaelists.) 3 This was but one of a series of consultations with the Venetian pope [End Page S142] that the Observants would seek while he was in exile from Rome, dwelling in Florence, Bologna or Ferrara. 4

On January 3, 1440, Franciscus and another leading Observant, Iacobus de Primatitiis, 5 posed this question to Eugenius. Although he had ruled on a previous question on this topic, Eugenius said he did not recall his answer. Then the pope passed these friars to the bishop of Rimini, Cristoforo di San Marcello, one of his most faithful servants during the Basel crisis. 6 The bishop, in turn, appointed a commission to reply to this inquiry. The commissioners were: Antoninus of Florence, a leading Dominican Observant; Juan de Mella, a canonist and bishop-elect of Leon; the bishop of Granada, Gundisalvus de Vallebona OFM; and Giovanni da Montenero, Dominican provincial of Lombardy. 7 These commissioners replied on the 14th of the same month, presenting the Franciscan Observants with both a written and an oral reply. The oral reply, perhaps answering objections of Franciscus and Iacobus to the written document, counseled both that the makers of vain garments should not be denied absolution if penitent and that the customs of particular cities should be respected. Franciscus attempted to refute this latter point by arguing that custom did not cover evanescent fashions, but the commissioners told him not to apply the legal definition of custom too strictly to daily life. Franciscus de Platea wrote a summary of this mission to the pope and dispatched it with a copy of the written opinion of the commissioners. 8

This report by Franciscus de Platea is interesting for two reasons. First, it sheds light on the dating of a more notable work, the De ornatu mulierum of Antoninus of Florence. Second, study of this or any of the other consultations given the Franciscan Observants by Eugenius or his delegates take us into a little-known web of documentation, consultations given by authoritative figures, whether prelates or prominent friars, to mendicants perplexed by issues of pastoral care and pious living as they confronted the complexities of Italian life in [End Page S143] the early 15th century. These consultations are not as well known as the legal consilia of the practitioners of Roman or canon law, 9 but they often were called by the same title, with its legal implications. 10

The first point turns on the completeness of our documentation. The report by Franciscus de Platea exists in two versions, one slightly more complete than the other. The less complete copy can be found in the Vatican Library in MS Patetta 69, fol. 55r-56r. 11 The longer and more complete version is found in the first part...