The Medieval Review 12.05.18


Pasqualetti, Cristiana. Il Libellus ad faciendum colores dell'Archivio di Stato dell'Aquila: Origine, contesto e restituzione del "De arte illuminandi". Micrologus' Library. Florence: SISMEL, Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2011. Pp. 277. 45 EUR. ISBN: 978-88-8450-422-7.



Reviewed by:


Sabina Zonno
Università degli Studi di Padova
sabina.zonno@unipd.it

In this volume, Cristiana Pasqualetti publishes the significant results of her researches on a late medieval didactic treatise on pigments and colours and their preparation and use in the art of illumination. The Libellus ad faciendum colores now MS S 57 in the Archivio di Stato in L'Aquila, Italy, was recently discovered by Francesco Zimei (xiii) and certainly figures as an important landmark for the study of the skills and practice of illumination in the Middle Ages.

The book demonstrates that this treatise must be read in relation to the famous exemplar entitled De arti illuminandi in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples (MS XII E 27); the manuscript in L'Aquila seems to derive from the same textual model, but with some noteworthy variants that make it appear to be a more ancient and complete version of De arti illuminandi. The origins and provenance of the exemplar now in L'Aquila and the historical, artistical, and cultural context in which it was produced are exhaustively investigated by the author through a laudable codicological, paleographical, and philological analysis. The result consists of a very concise, accurate description of the manuscript and its textual contents.

Pasqualetti's volume opens with a foreword written by Alessandra Perriccioli Saggese who highlights the multidisciplinary approach of the work (vii-ix). This short introduction is followed by a detailed introductory study by the author (xix-cxviii), who refers to the De arti illuminandi as the only example of this kind of treatise known before the discovery of the manuscript in L'Aquila. The international literature on De arti illuminandi, from the nineteenth century up to the present day, testifies to the keen critical interest in this treatise, but also reveals its obscurities along with its uncertain date and provenance. The present volume puts forward for consideration new ideas on the Libellus ad faciendum colores and De arti illuminandi, both of which are published with a concise codicological description (3-6). Some original information on both the date and the provenance of these codices is provided by the author.

The Libellus ad faciendum colores contained in the manuscript in L'Aquila includes various books with multiple chapters. In Pasqualetti's introduction, the detailed examination of the data reflects the order of the textual contents in the treatise; so, after recipes for pigments and colours, she examines the recipes for glues, ligands, additives, and varnish (lx-lxiv). The anonymous author of the Libellus distinguishes between natural and artificial pigments and provides the reader with instructions for preparing them. The instructions are very precise. The author also suggests that an artist should use specific colours for shading. In some cases, he omits the processes to produce some specific pigments, but describes their use in medieval illumination.

Some chapters in the treatise are dedicated to the spreading of colours and to the final touches, as well as to the depiction of flesh. There is also some remarkable information on the use of red and blue in the production of filigree initials, or litterae floritae. The presence of these details would seem to testify to a particular interest in calligraphy (lxx), but the absence of any references to inks would seem to confirm that the scribe's work is conceived here only as part of a decorative process. There are no mentions of drawings, as if they were beyond the scope of the illuminators; they probably worked from painters' drawings. The distinction between illuminators and painters, working together but with different particular skills, is confirmed by some fourteenth- and fifteenth- century documents mentioned in the book (lxxi). Eight pictures in colour representing different kinds of initials, miniatures, and drawings from diverse contexts--and datable between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries--give some visual examples of the colours referred to in the treatise and also contribute to making Pasqualetti's volume more appealing and enjoyable.

In her introduction, she also compares the information derived from the treatise in L'Aquila with the contents in some coeval or later technical treatises, as for example the important works by Eraclius and Cennino Cennini (lxxxi-xcvii); but she also takes into consideration the ancient writings of Theophrastus, Vitruvius, Pliny the Younger, and Isidore of Seville (lvi). A list of colours-- including also the details of the preparation for glues, gold, ligands, and additives, and the specific references to the chapters and book sections where they are mentioned--appears at the end of the volume in a chapter dedicated to the relations between the Libellus and other technical-artistic medieval treatises (xc-xcvii). The linguistic peculiarities of the text, references to specific pigments or colours and to their use, and comparisons with other existing treatises--as well as the application of the rules of the treatise in various coeval works of art such as frescoes, paintings, codices, and objects of general use--have induced Pasqualetti to propose a date around the end of the fourteenth century for the treatise. In addition, the inclusion of particular colours known to have been used in Tuscany suggests a possible trade network between L'Aquila and Florence.

Another significant chapter of the book is dedicated to the manuscripts illuminated in Abruzzo in the fourteenth and fifteenth century, as concrete applications of the principles contained in the Libellus: they are published in eight pictures in colour at the end of this section. In an attempt to determine the place of origin of the anonymous author and the provenance of the manuscript, Pasqualetti investigates the cultural background of the treatise, suggesting that it may have been produced in the Franciscan convent of Sant'Angelo d'Ocre in Abruzzo. A tentative identification of the author is included in the tenth chapter (cx-cxiii). Here, all the information given in the first part of the book is assembled to identify the author. The introduction also describes the recent and past history of the manuscript, referring to its influential owners such as Bernardino da Fossa (1420/22-1503), who is buried in the convent of Sant'Angelo d'Ocre.

The book includes a facsimile of the Libellus. An explanation of the criteria chosen for this critical edition is given just before the reproductions of the exemplar in L'Aquila (20-23). The treatise is published with thirty-three pictures in black and white (25-57) preceded by a comment on the text, with codicological descriptions of the manuscripts in both L'Aquila and Naples (3-6). The considerations for the date of the manuscript in Naples are based for the first time on detailed paleographical and linguistic evidence (7-11). Thus the relation between the first and the second exemplars is taken into consideration here (11-20). The transcription of the text in the L'Aquila manuscript comes after the facsimile; the Latin text appears on the left, paralleled by its translation in Italian on the right (58-177). The huge number of notes certainly helps to clarify the meanings and the origins of certain words, alluding to the similarities between this treatise and other analogous works and amplifying the contents with exhaustive explanations, comparisons, and additional bibliographical references.

Pasqualetti's critical edition is followed by a fascinating essay by Paolo Bensi dedicated to the pigments and colours mentioned in the Libellus (179-206). In his expert analysis, the description of the properties and the ways in which substances interact, combine, and change merges with a deep knowledge of medieval sources and practices. At the end, a glossary edited by Pasqualetti includes an alphabetical list of technical terms found in the treatise with their definitions, their possible use in the Middle Ages, the most important textual references where these words are documented, and relevant bibliography for delving further into the matter (207-247).



Copyright (c) 2012 Sabina Zonno



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