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Pliny the Elder, Historia naturalis, in Latin

Illuminated Manuscript
ca. 1460-1470 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

The Natural History, written around AD 77 by Roman author Pliny the Elder described the natural work in thirty-seven books ranging from astronomy to geology, from zoology and botany to human physiology. Some arts, such as painting and sculpture are also included, as they draw their raw materials from nature. This work was a major influence on medieval encyclopaedias by authors such as Isidore of Seville or Vincent of Beauvais.
This copy was made in the 1460s in Rome for Gregorio Lolli Piccolomini, as indicated by the coat of arms painted on two pages where the arms of the Lolli and the Piccolomini families are combined (ff. 375v-458r). Gregorio Lolli was a cousin of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini and was appointed papal secretary in 1459, nearly one year after Aeneas became Pope Pius II (1458-1464). Both shared a humanist education, and Gregorio’s copy of Pliny’s Natural History is very close to manuscripts commissioned by his cousin. It embraces the humanistic aesthetic: written in a humanistic script, more legible than the Gothic script, its borders and initials are decorated with so-called white vine ornament, a trademark of humanistic manuscripts.
The first historiated initial, introducing the preface, shows Pliny, crowned with laurels, seated in a landscape with a book in his hand. Each subsequent book is introduced by a scene evoking its content. The book on painting, for instance, begins with an initial showing painters at work and an assistant grinding colour pigments on a stone (f. 485r).


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Ink, pigments and gold on parchment. Leather binding.
Brief Description
Manuscript, Historia naturalis, Italy (Rome), ca. 1460-1470.
Physical Description
Foliation: parchment. i-ii (18th-century parchment, I conjoint with pastedown) + 525 + iii-iv (18th-century parchment, a bifolium) ff.



Number of lines: 44 lines of text and one line of running title.



Language: Latin.



Script: humanistic (possibly by Iacopo della Pergola).



Textual content:

f. 1v: Extract from Suetonius, De viris illustribus. Note on Pliny and beginning of the Historia naturalis.

ff. 2r-525r: Historia naturalis in 37 books.

ff. 2r-3v: Preface.

ff. 4r-19r: List of chapters and authorities of all 37 books (the chapter headings listed in book 1 do not correspond to the headings above the chapters in the 37 books themselves).



Decoration: 37 large initials on panels attached to borders of white vine interlace on gold, blue, green and red grounds which extend down one side of the margin (35 historiated - ff. 2r, 20r, 42r, 54v, 65r, 77v, 94v, 110v, 127r, 140v, 155v, 174r, 183r, 191v, 200v, 209r, 225v, 245r, 271r, 285r, 305r, 321r, 333v, 346r, 361v, 375v, 389r, 400r, 419v, 430r, 441r, 450r, 461r, 472v, 485r, 499v, 512v); terminals of borders in the form of small gold sunbursts and flowers; numerous small emblazoned initials on coloured grounds; rubrics in red and blue.



Artists: The larger part of the illuminations is commonly attributed to the ‘Miniatore dei Piccolomini’, active from the early 1460s. Other artists such as Giuliano Amadei, Liberale da Verona, Gioacchino de Gigantibus have been suggested for other parts of the manuscript, as well as the Sienese illuminator Gioacchino Semboli, but this attribution is still very much debated.



Binding: Reddish-brown morocco, gold-tooled on both covers with a large diamond panel within a rectangular border; both panel and border outlined with a triple row of fillets tooled in blind.



Accompanying material: Letter from Alessandro Lisini, 1907, attributing historiated initials to G. Semboli, inserted inside cover.

Dimensions
  • Height: 410mm
  • Width: 285mm
  • Text block ff. 4r 19v height: 268mm
  • Text block ff. 4r 19v width: 210mm
  • Text block ff. 19v 525r height: 270mm
  • Text block ff. 19v 525r width: 160mm
Production typeUnique
Gallery Label
NATURAL HISTORY About 1460 Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) Natural History, the great encyclopedia of the Roman writer Pliny the Elder, was written around AD 77. It became a standard work of reference for scholars in 15th - and 16th - century Italy. This copy was made for Gregorio Lolli Piccolomini, who was secretery to Pope Pius II. Italy, Roma Ink on parchment, with watercolour and gold Written out about 1460 by Jacopo della Pergola; illuminated by the 'Piccolomini Illuminator' Museum no. MSL/1896/1504 (24/03/2018)
Object history
(1) Written in Italy for Gregorio Lolli Piccolomini in the 1460s (arms on ff. 1v, 375v, 441r, 485r).

(2) Inscription in an 18th-century archival hand beneath the front and rear pastedowns.

(3) Bought by the South Kensington Museum in 1896 from Martin Nijhoff (The Hague).
Summary
The Natural History, written around AD 77 by Roman author Pliny the Elder described the natural work in thirty-seven books ranging from astronomy to geology, from zoology and botany to human physiology. Some arts, such as painting and sculpture are also included, as they draw their raw materials from nature. This work was a major influence on medieval encyclopaedias by authors such as Isidore of Seville or Vincent of Beauvais.

This copy was made in the 1460s in Rome for Gregorio Lolli Piccolomini, as indicated by the coat of arms painted on two pages where the arms of the Lolli and the Piccolomini families are combined (ff. 375v-458r). Gregorio Lolli was a cousin of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini and was appointed papal secretary in 1459, nearly one year after Aeneas became Pope Pius II (1458-1464). Both shared a humanist education, and Gregorio’s copy of Pliny’s Natural History is very close to manuscripts commissioned by his cousin. It embraces the humanistic aesthetic: written in a humanistic script, more legible than the Gothic script, its borders and initials are decorated with so-called white vine ornament, a trademark of humanistic manuscripts.

The first historiated initial, introducing the preface, shows Pliny, crowned with laurels, seated in a landscape with a book in his hand. Each subsequent book is introduced by a scene evoking its content. The book on painting, for instance, begins with an initial showing painters at work and an assistant grinding colour pigments on a stone (f. 485r).
Bibliographic References
  • Bradley, J.W. Historical introduction to the collection of illuminated letters and borders in the National Art Library. London: 1901.pl. 12
  • Ker, N.R. Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries I. Oxford: 1967.p. 388
  • Ruysschaert, J. 'Miniaturistes "romains" sous Pie II'. In Enea Silvio Piccolomini Papa - Pio II, Atti del convegno per il quinto centenario della morte e altri scritti raccolti da Domenico Maffei. Sienam 1968, pp. 258.
  • Whalley, J.I. Pliny the elder, Historia naturalis. London, 1982.
  • Harthan J.P.An introduction to illuminated manuscripts. London: 1983.p. 40
  • De Hamel, C. A History of Illuminated Manuscripts. Oxford, 1986.p. 220, fig. 225
  • Kristeller, P.O. Iter Italicum. A finding list of uncatalogued or incompletely catalogued humanistic manuscripts of the Renaissance in Italian and other libraries.6 vols. London and Leiden, 1965-1992.vol. IV, 1989, p. 217
  • de Marchi, A. 'Identità di Giuliano Amadei Miniatore'. Bolletino d'arte, 93-94, 1995, p. 114, no. 69.
  • Buonocore, M. (ed.) Vedere i classici. L'illustrazione libraria dei testi antichi dall'età romana al tardo medioevo. Rome, 1996.p. 20
  • Zaggia, M., P.L. Mulas and M. Ceriana. Giovanni Matteo Bottigella, cortigiano, uomo di letter e committente d'arte. Florence, 1997, p. 196, no. 218.
  • Bollati, M. (ed).Dizionario biografico dei miniatori italiani secoli IX-XVI. Preface by Mikós Boskovits. Milan, 2004.pp. 379, 786
  • Campbell, M. Medieval jewellery in Europe 1100-1500. London, 2009, pp. 14, 15, 32.
  • Davies, G. and K. Kennedy. Medieval and Renaissance Art: People and Possessions. London, 2009.pp. 260-261
  • Watson, R. Western Illuminated Manuscripts.Victoria and Albert Museum. A catalogue of works in the National Art Library from the eleventh to the early twentieth century, with a complete account of the George Reid Collection. London, 2011.vol. 2, pp. 534-541, cat. 101
  • Blake McHam, S .'Erudition on Display: The ‘Scientific’ Illustrations in Pico della Mirandola’s of Pliny the Elder’s Natural History'. In J.A. Givens, K.M. Reeds and A. Touwaide (eds.), Visualizing Medieval Medicine, 1200-1550. Aldershot, 2006, pp. 83-114.
Other Numbers
  • KRP.D.12 - NAL Pressmark
  • 38041800159097 - NAL barcode
Collection
Library Number
MSL/1896/1504

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record createdMarch 1, 2017
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