THE HOURS OF THE NOBLE FRASIA DA SIENA
Book of Hours, Use of Rome, in Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum
probably Ferrara, Italy, 1460-1480.
81 x 61 mm, 382 leaves on parchment: I-IX10, X10 (with quires XI and XII inserted between leaves sixth and seventh), XI10, XII4, XIII-XXXI10, XXXII8, XXXIII-XXXVIII10, XXXIX4, XL6 (3 blanks), catchwords in lower margin of last verso of quires and trace of manuscript leaf-signatures on quires I-X and XIII-XXXVIII, repeating signature D on quire XXXIII; parchment flyleaf with conjoint pastedown at the beginning and end. Regular Italian Gothic script [Southern Textualis Rotunda] in red and black by two hands, the second copying the additional text in the Hours of the Virgin and the Italian prayers at the end. Rubrics in red and initials (1-2 line high) in alternating red and blue throughout. 14 initials (2-4 lines high), in blue or green set against a gold-leaf ground with foliate decoration and/or extensions in purple and green with gold bezants, marking the Hours within the Hours of the Virgin and of the Cross, and the beginning of Litany. 4 illuminated historiated initials, in blue, in foliate design with white tracery, set against gold-leaf grounds with foliate extensions in green and purple, and 4 full borders decorated with scrolling green leaves and flowers in blue, purple, green and yellow interspersed with gold bezants, on fols 21r, 165r, 269r and 313r: 1 six-line initial “D”[omine] (fol. 21r) historiated with the Virgin and Child, the original arms within the wreath at centre of the bas-de-page erased [gules, a central charge per pale with traces of one small object at either side and repainted as arms of same tincture with a column argent]; 1 six-line initial “V”[enite] (fol. 165r) historiated with the image of a skull set against a green field and blue sky; 1 six-line initial “D”[omine] (fol. 269r) historiated with David in prayer; 1 six-line initial “D”[omine] (fol. 313r) historiated with Christ as the Man of Sorrows. Good quality parchment, well preserved, with large, clean margins. Thin wood boards sewn on three double-split spine bands of alum-tawed skin, two endbands with decorative sewing in alternating gold and red threads, and bookblock edges gilt and gauffered, all datable to the early sixteenth century. Red-velvet cover with fastening copper-alloy catch, inscribed “AVE”, red-velvet strap and fastening pin, with quatrefoil-shape base, at centre of lower cover (19th-century).
The volume includes the text necessary for the daily private devotion of religious and lay individuals according to the use of Rome.
Manuscript Books of Hours produced in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance were often beautifully produced and illuminated to reflect the wealth and sophistication of their patrons. The present book is no exception. It was written in a pleasing elegant and regular Italian Rotunda hand on white and supple parchment of the highest quality and decorated with charming initials and borders in bright colours and gold. The simple and yet elegant appearance and the small proportions suggest it was made for a cultivated female patron.
The four patron saints of Siena, Ansano, Savino, Crescenzio e Vittore, listed in the calendar at the beginning of the book (fols 1r-18v) and even more prominently among the martyrs in the Litany (fol. 297r-v), point to the Tuscan town as the place of origin. The palette of deep hues of blue, purple, green and yellow, the dark outlining of the figures, and the shapes of foliage and flowers in the borders identify the unknown artist as a close follower of the Sienese illuminator Bernardino Cignoni (d. 1496). Cignoni decorated manuscripts and documents for the Siena Cathedral and Chancery, and a number of local religious confraternities and aristocratic families, such as the Piccolomini and the Bichi (see M. Cignoni, “Bernardino Cignoni di Siena miniatore di libri (m. 1496)”, in Honos alit artes: Studi per il settantesimo compleanno di Mario Aschieri, Firenze, 2014, vol. 2, pp. 269-73). The depiction of the skull in the historiated initial at the beginning of the Office of the Dead (fol. 165r) is particularly close to Cignoni’s opening of the same Office in the Hours for Filitiana Bichi (now New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M 311, fol. 85 r). The patron of the present Hours also belonged to a prominent Sienese family, but her arms have been erased from the bas-de-page of fol. 21 recto. The original tincture was seemingly gules, with a charge in pale, now overpainted argent, and an unidentified object at either side of it.
Early in the early sixteenth century, the text for Terce and Sext in the Hours of the Virgin was replaced and a final quire containing three additional prayers in Italian added, the bookblock edges were slightly trimmed, gilt and gauffered, and the book possibly newly bound in a delicate velvet [?] binding. These changes probably occurred when the manuscript was passed on to a new owner, possibly a daughter or a niece, her name “Frasia” (for Eufrasia) recurring at the beginning of two of the Italian prayers (fols 377r with marginal maniculae and 379r), in which she is portrayed as a “misera peccatrice”. The book also shows a sample of her own writing in the words “o pecatrice frasia” added at the end of the last prayer by an unprofessional, yet educated early sixteenth-century hand (fol. 382v).
Frasia was a common name at the time among Sienese women and the literature relating to the cultural life in Siena in the first half of the century records the names of at least three Sienese noblewomen, Frasia Agazzari, Frasia Placidi de’ Ventury and Frasia Marzi, who wrote poetry and participated in the reunions – the so-called veglie – of the new Academia degli Intronati (founded in 1525; see Giovanni Paolo Ubaldini, Paradossa Quinta of his Dieci paradosse degli Academici Intronati da Siena, Milan, Gio. Antonio degli Antonii, 1564)
Despite a seemingly matching tincture (gules), none of the family arms of these gentlewomen can be identified with the original owner; a possible match is to be found in the arms of the di Niccoluccio family (gules, a ladder of four rounds per pale or between two estoiles of the same), with the gold ladder now substituted with a white column.