Throwback Thursday

One of the oh so many joys of living in Rome was taking a walking tour with Nancy.  She is an American art historian who has lived most of her adult live in Italy and has a wealth of knowledge – both technical and anecdotal – on Italy ancient and modern. And she also seems to have access to things that you just don’t see on the average tour. On one occasion she managed to set up a private evening tour of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. After visiting it in a group of only 20 I was never able to go back during the crush of regular opening hours.

On another occasion she arranged a peek into the rare book collection of the Biblioteca Angelica – one of the first public libraries in the Western world. I thought I’d reblog three posts I wrote back in 2010 after that visit. At the end of this first repost there are links to the other two. I had several others in the works that were left unfinished and languishing in that very large “drafts” folder.

Willy Or Won't He

A week ago Tuesday I spent the morning at the public library here in Roma – well okay not just any old public library but one of the earliest public libraries in Europe. Biblioteca Angelica was founded in 1604 by Bishop Angelo (hence Angelica) Rocca, a writer and collector of rare books. He was also in charge of the Vatican Printing House during the pontificate of Pope Sextus V. He entrusted the care of some 20,000 volumes to the Monks at the convent of St Augustine, provided a building, an annuity, and regulations for its operation: the principle rule being that it was open to all people regardless of income or social status. It has functioned as a public library since 1609 and except for a few periods of renovation and civil upheaval has been a major source of learning and research material to anyone over the age of 16…

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Going to the Library – Part III – Rare and Wonderful

On my recent visit to the Biblioteca Angelica I was at first stunned, then a little angered and finally, I know I will get such flack over this, secretly thrilled that we were given such close access to the treasures. The librarian handled them all without gloves and a few of our party did touch one or two of these incredible documents. When I asked her why she wasn’t wearing protective hand wear she shrugged it off and said: we don’t take these out all that often??????


This is the oldest European document (above and below) in the library’s collection. It is a simple Parish Book of the Remembrance – a list of those who have died and are to be remembered at mass – from a church in France. It is on vellum and some of the pages had holes in them, however the librarian explained that it wasn’t damage but cheap vellum, after all it was only a parish registry. The holes were from insect bites in the animal skin that expanded when it was worked to create the writing surface. The first entry dates from the middle of the 8th Century and the last somewhere in the 13th – 500 years of parish history. And of course as time passed the handwriting changed as the previous register’s name was entered in the hand of his successor.

 

I must admit that prior to this visit I had no idea what an incunabula was. As the Librarian casually brought out each book the term was explained – these are from the infancy (the incubation) of printing. In many cases the texts were done on a printing press but the decorations – illuminations, gilded lettering, title pages etc – were still being done by hand.


This is the first printed edition of Dante’s The Divine Comedy; of the 300 printed only 14 copies have survived. As with many incunabuli it is a combination of printed word and hand illumination. It was published in Foligno by Johann Numeister and Evangelista Angelini on April 5th and 6th, 1472 and the enlarged photo is the colophon – the details of its printing – which until modern times always appeared, as it does here, at the back of a book. It reads (very loosely as it is in very old Italian): In 1472, the fourth month (April) the 5th and 6th days this worthy work was printed by me Maestro Johann Numeister this being the 10th impression and I was assisted by Elfulginato Evangelista (a monk).


This volume is unique for several reasons. It is an incunabula of one of the first books on pharmaceutics – De Materia Medica, five volumes written by Pendanius Dioscorides, a Greek doctor (40-90 CE) discussing the medicinal effects of herbs. This translation was printed in the 1500s but much later in the 16th century a student not only made notes in the margins but drew pictures of the various plants being described. It is a remarkable volume showing the library serving its purpose as the founder intended – a place for research and learning.

I have two more posts in this series of works which I was lucky enough to see on my day at the library however there may be a slight delay in posting as I head off to London and also wait for the new Mac with Photoshop installed.

Going to the Library – Part I

Going to the Library – Part II – Travel Guides

17 febbraio – Santi Sette Fondatori dell’Ordine dei Servi della Beata Vergine Maria

Going to the Library – Part II – Travel Guides

When most of us plan a trip we’ll consult a travel guide, a website or do a bit of surfing on the Internet. We like to know what’s ahead of us – what is “worth the detour”. And it was no different for early travelers to Italy or Rome. The collection at the Bibloteca Angelica contains books, maps and diaries giving tips to the visitor on a wide range of sights and subjects.

This small volume Itinerarium Puteolanensis was written and illustrated in 1240 as a guide for Frederick II when he went to visit the baths in Pozzuoli near Napoli. It extols the virtues of bathing and gives amble illustrations of the waters in the area and the benefits to be found in soaking in them.  (Click to start the slideshow)

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Shortly after his death the friends of Alò Giovannoli published a series of 126 copper plate engravings he had made of antiquities around Rome. Though his sense of perspective and proportion is suspect he captures the ancient monuments as they were during his time (circa 1550-1618). This particular edition of the first of the three volumes of his Roma antica dates from 1661.

The Arch of Titus which records the Sack of Jerusalem and still stands today – perhaps because it was incorporated into a building thus saving it from being pulled down.
 
The Palatine Hill showing the rich gardens of the Farnese family – an effort is being made to restore them to some of their original splendor.
The Arch of Constantine – which is still one of the major tourist attractions – is surrounded by smaller buildings and palazzo walls.
 
The Mausoleum of Augustus had become a public garden; in our day it has almost the appearance of rubbish heap though plans are in the works to have it restored.

The problem with copperplate engraving is that as the plates are used the images become slightly blurred as is the case with this later edition. But it still gives a window into the Roma of the period and what would have been seen on the Grand Tour by tourists. An art historian friend was fascinated by engravings of many of the monuments she had read about but which had disappeared. We could hardly tear her away from the reading table.

Going to the Library – Part I

Going to the Library – Part II – Rare and Wonderful


11 febbraio – Nostra Signora di Lourdes

Going To The Library – Part I

A week ago Tuesday I spent the morning at the public library here in Roma – well okay not just any old public library but one of the earliest public libraries in Europe. Biblioteca Angelica was founded in 1604 by Bishop Angelo (hence Angelica) Rocca, a writer and collector of rare books. He was also in charge of the Vatican Printing House during the pontificate of Pope Sextus V. He entrusted the care of some 20,000 volumes to the Monks at the convent of St Augustine, provided a building, an annuity, and regulations for its operation: the principle rule being that it was open to all people regardless of income or social status. It has functioned as a public library since 1609 and except for a few periods of renovation and civil upheaval has been a major source of learning and research material to anyone over the age of 16 ever since.

I believe the crest above the library entrance is that of the founder Bishop Angelo Rocca – however I’m a little confused by the Cardinal’s hat incorporated into it as I don’t believe he ever reached that exalted rank. Though it may also reflect the enormous contribution of Cardinal Passionei to the collection.

In 1661 Lukas Holste, the curator of the Vatican Library, gave his collection of 3,000 printed volumes to the Augustinians. During the period of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation its position as a repository of Augustinian thought and writings means that it is one of the prime research centres for history of that period. The acquisition in 1762 of the huge library of Cardinal Domenico Passionei, collected as he traveled through Protestant Europe as a Papal envoy, meant that books that had been banned where now in a public library.

It was during this period that the monks commissioned Luigi Vanvitelli to rebuild the reading room in 1765. It is this same room that is still in use today. Since 1873 the library has been the property of the Italian state and is currently undergoing restoration and reorganization.

Some Biblioteca Angelica facts:

It houses:

  • over 200,000 volumes in its Heritage Collection
  • 100,000 of which were edited between the 15th and 19th centuries
  • 24,000 unbound manuscripts
  • 2,700 Latin, Greek or Oriental documents
  • 1,100 incunabula – books printed before 1501
  • 460 unbound maps
  • 10,000 maps bound in volumes
  • over 120,000 volumes in its Modern Collection
Though the collection is now indexed on computer there are still facsimile copies of the first catalogues available around the room. The first handwritten record of the entire contents of the library was begun in 1748 and finally complete in 1786.

I will be putting up a few posts on some of the rare books in the collection in the next few days. (A left click below will take you to those few posts.)

Going to the Library – Part II – Travel Guides

Going to the Library – Part III – Rare and Wonderful

10 febbraio – Santa Scolastica