Florence, manuscript on paper, 1584


Large folio. ff. [2], 226, [14] + [2] tipped in at rear. Entirely musical manuscript on thick, high-quality paper, no visible watermark. Large Gothic letter, in black ink; couple of final gatherings in a different C16 hand; last few ll. in a slightly later hand. Titles rubricated, music on 7 4-line staves in red throughout (‘virgulae pausarum’ in black), plainchant notation in black, initials decorated in red, green, blue and gold. Full-page red on white cross within decorated border in black, red, green and gold to verso of second leaf, similar smaller to fol.214v. Some unobtrusive see-through, a little mainly marginal foxing or finger-soiling in places, restorations to lower blank margins of a dozen ll., gutter of last couple of gatherings strengthened, occasional ink burn to notation, couple of early revisions or additions on pasted paper slips, small worm trail to first few ll. touching the odd note or letter. Colophon: ‘Iste liber scriptus fuit manu propria mee (sic) catherine monialis monasterii Sancte crucis de florentia. Et expletus fuit kal. Janu. MDLXXXVIII’ in red to fol.214v. A very good copy in contemporary Florentine goatskin over wooden boards, c1800 reback and eps renewed, elaborate brass cornerpieces, centrepieces and clasps (two), double blind ruled, outer border and inner panel decorated with blind roll of interlacing tendrils and blind-stamped fleurons, joints just cracked. 

A sumptuous, illuminated gradual, in its charming, well-preserved original contemporary Florentine binding. It was produced in 1584 at the Dominican Convent of La Crocetta, one of the wealthiest in Florence, enjoying the patronage of the Medici, by a nun named Catherine who stated her scribal efforts in the colophon, and is recorded to have copied nearly 180 such mss. ‘Colophons where the nun gives her full name, location and date, are much rarer. […] Where they occur, nun scribes were effectively using their own good name to validate the integrity of the copy. […] This supports the thesis that nuns from leading families could be well educated’ (Breckon, p.140). This gradual was most probably produced for La Crocetta, the red cross – the symbol of the institution – is depicted at the beginning and rear, and occasionally on the staves as decoration. Sister Catherine also copied a liturgical ms for La Crocetta (Bib. Domenicana, CR028) in 1582, with similar red crosses used for decoration. In 1575 ‘the convent had two girls to present for vestition, one of whom was Catherine, daughter of Domenico Federighi, one of a long line of a distinguished Florentine family. Catherine is recorded as being 13 years old [in] 1575 and so would have been in her early 20s at the time the colophon was written’ (Breckon, p.165). This ms ‘is also testament to the level of education amongst nuns at La Crocetta. Catherine herself was well enough versed in music to copy the notes reasonably faithfully, and to write in Latin, not only in the liturgical texts but also […] in her colophon. Many of her fellow Choir nuns were probably similarly well-educated’ (Breckon, p.171).  

This post-Tridentine Gradual comprises all chants and hymns for the Mass throughout the year. It also includes interesting types of notes such as unusual ‘concertinas’, which appear to be unrelated to rhythmic changes to the plainchant, and were perhaps Catherine’s own scribal ‘quirk’ (Brecknor, p.168-70). One of the pasted overslips includes an addition to the Feast of St Francis, with the notation and words for ‘Allelujah Franciscus pauper et humilis’, a feast established after the Council of Trent (1545-63). Additional notation, in a different contemporary hand, is provided after the final table of contents for Candlemas and the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, with a small red decorative cross at the end, as well as for another handful of feasts, in a slightly later hand, including that of St Mary ad Nives. As stated in a C17 ms note, the gathering before the penultimate includes chants for the Mass of St Peter Martyr. This most handsome ms was clearly in use at the Convent at least until c.1800, the partly worn joints, reback and the occasional slips in thin wove paper suggesting that the ms continued to fulfil its function until at least the early C19. The Convent was definitively shut in 1866.  


L. Breckon, ‘Agency through Plainchant: Nuns of Florence, 1550–1650’, unpublished PhD diss, Goldsmiths, Univ. of London, 2022.