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FRANCISCAN ILLUMINATION IN LATIN MSS. 29-31 OF JOHN RYLANDS LIBRARY, MANCHESTER VlTThat's wrong with our present civilization? " There must be something wrong, when mass media like the Saturday Evening Post and the Saturday Review pay money to prominent "authorities" to write articles, while the Foundation for Adult Education spends seventy-five million dollars in ten years to make adult Americans think about their own thinking. The other day, browsing in our library in a big book with excellent illustrations, I personally found one answer. I think possibly one part of what is 'wrong' with our culture is an oldfashioned disease known as "pride of intellect." The very complication of our I.B.M. civilization has bred the cult of the specialist, the pessimism of the average man. What the big book1 taught me was that a bare-footed little Grey Friar, back in the 14th Century, in a little Italian city, without benefit of a slide-rule or a computer or electrical brain, solved, (two centuries ahead of Mercator or Leonardo da Vinci) the problem of portraying a spherical figure on a plane surface. The evidence and proof is contained in three very valuable mediaeval volumes on vellum in the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England. Their title is Postilla super omnes libros bibliae tarn veteris tarn nove testimenti, by Nicolaus de Lyra, (1270—1340). Nicolaus was a Franciscan of whom the Jesuit Hugo Hurter wrote in Nomenclátor Litterarius: „Hätte Lyra nicht über die Bibel geschrieben, wäre mancher Doktor ein Esel geblieben." This sprightly couplet refers to the friar's chef d'oeuvre, the first complete Commentary on the Bible. He wrote it while a Franciscan professor at the University of Paris. The John Rylands copy (made before Gutenberg invented printing) was written by a Franciscan scribe and the elaborate picture-borders of each page were 'illuminated' by a brother-Franciscan. 1 Descriptive Catalogue of Latin Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library at Manchester, (England). N. Y., Longmans, Green. 1921. 2 vol. 98 Franciscan Illumination99 Moreover, unwittingly, the artist-illuminator, on one leaf of vellum, folio 123, recto and verso, has left us a holograph note, revealing not only his knowledge of Scripture, but also his integrity and perseverance in his art, and his possession of the faculty styled today 'eidetic imagery .'2 There are very clear reproductions of the two pages, 123a and 123b in the Descriptive Catalogue of Latin Manuscripts of the John Rylands Library at Manchester3 (Plates 67, 68, Vol. II) and a detailed collation (Vol.1, Pp 81—87). In the colophon of each volume, as rendered in the Catalogue, is the statement that the work was done by order of Pandolfo di Malatesta (1377—1427), "der Soeldnerfuehrer und Kunstmaecen."4 The Malatesta family were Lords of Rimini and Pesaro for 250 years, as leaders of the Guelf faction in Italy's long civil wars, until in 1445, they sold their rights to the Sforza family. Pesaro itself, on the right bank of the river Foglia where it meets the Adriatic sea, was a walled city until 1830. While his elder brother ruled, Pandolfo was a soldier of fortune, possibly a university student since he was not more than 18 years old when he commissioned the Franciscans of Pesaro to write and illuminate for him the Postilla of Nicholas of Lyra. In 1416, Pandolfo inherited the dukedom at his brother's death and presumably lived at the ducal palace of Rimini. A note at the end of each volume, dated 23 March, 1459, states that Louis de Gonzaga, (1414—1478) Marquis of Mantua, gave the three volumes to the Franciscan monastery at Mantua, "ad fratrum ibidem commorantium usum et spiritualem consolationem." Since the mother of Louis was Paula Malatesta, (d. 1452) he probably inherited the codices through her. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica (13th edition), Louis was "a celebrated soldier and also a learned and liberal prince, a patron of literature and the arts." Mantua was besieged by Napoleon in 1796; it would be permissible to speculate whether the vellum Postilla disappeared from the Mantua Franciscan Monastery as war loot, as did another manuscript, an illuminated Antiphonal, now at St. Bonaventure...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 98-103
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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