[PADUA – Diploma in law]


[PADUA] Doctoral diploma in law

Padua, manuscript on vellum, 1654


23.4 x 17.3 cm, 6 unnumbered ll. Latin MS, in black-brown and gold ink, humanist minuscule, 23 lines per full page. All pages ruled in red and gold, within charming polychromatic border of flowers, tendrils, birds, lizards, insects, fruit and grotesque heads portrayed with remarkable scientifical precision; oval portrait of doctor Baptista Bassanus to first leaf, surrounded by putti and grotesques, surmounted by Virgin and Child; second with arms of the Bassani dalla Porta, surrounded by ovals with St Anthony, John the Baptist and St Nicholas(?); decorated gilt initials. Border of second recto minimally smudged at foot, couple of tiny worm holes to border of final leaf. A fresh, clean, highly desirable copy in later citron silk binding over boards, silk book mark with hanging gilt thread decoration, marbled eps. Autograph ‘M. Marchianus Abbas’ and ‘Presbyter Camillus Pastorius ProCanc[ellar]ius Curie’ at end, ‘42’ (Maurice Burrus casemark) to ffep and fly verso. In C20 crushed navy blue morocco case.

A handsomely illuminated manuscript doctoral diploma in law (‘utroque iure’) granted by the University of Padua in 1654—in a charming, probably slightly, later silk binding. The portrait of the doctoral candidate and the decorated polychromatic border, with fresh, perfectly preserved grotesques and zoomorphic features, witness the stylistic changes of the mid-C17.

The recipient, Baptista (i.e., Giovanni Battista) Bassanus from Salò, was a member of the ‘natio lombarda’, one of 22 geographical communities organised around ‘collegia’. His ancestry reached back to the noble Dalla Porta family of Padua; a branch had moved to Bassano in 1500 and, c.1550, to Salò. Their descendants held prominent appointments and married into important families. (From a C18 descendant came Countess Teresa Bassani dalla Porta, correspondent of Casanova.) (‘Cenni’, 4-5). Granted by the Bishop of Padua, ‘by ancient and approved custom’, the diploma is signed by Marco Marchiano, professor of canon law and vicar of the bishop Giorgio Cornaro, and by the Procancellarius. The three phases of Bassani’s exam were the ‘praesentatio’ to the professorial Collegio, the discussion of legal questions, and the ceremony. In the diploma, the names of the prestigious Lelio Mancino, Marco Marchiano and Giacomo Caimo were added to those who officiated it. The law doctors Francesco Castellino, Francesco Ab Hera and Giulio Mano, from Salò, are listed at the end as representatives of the ‘natio lombarda’.

The charming decoration was produced by a gifted, anonymous illuminator. The illumination of diplomas was optional, and generally requested by wealthier candidates. Before the last quarter of the C17, when the figure of the scribe-illuminator became an institutional office, illumination of diplomas and deeds of nobility was a free market shared by artists of varying skill, often serving specific ‘nationes’ or faculties (del Negro, 111). The portrait of the candidate—a new element appearing c.mid-C17—was usually produced by a different artist; in the Veneto, even famous artists were often asked to illustrate official documents (e.g., for the Doge) (Brizzi-Furlan, 282-3). In this period often remarkably realistic, zoomorphic and floral elements began to appear—as here, where delicate birds and insects are rendered with the fresh vividness of scientific illustration. Botanic and zoomorphic precision were possibly inspired not only by the ongoing interest in still life, but also by the influential ‘pietre dure’ decorations produced by the Florentine Corbelli family for the Benedictines of Santa Giustina, Padua, in the 1630s (Baldissin Molli, passim; ‘Miniatura a Padova’, n.183).

 A rare item and a handsome specimen of C17 Italian illumination.

Similar mss are held at Kansas, Royal College of Physicians (London) and Manitoba, in addition to libraries in the Veneto. With many thanks to Dr Francesco Piovan, Archivio Universitario di Padova, for his assistance. P. del Negro, ‘Lo scrittore-miniatore di diplomi di laurea tra Sei e Settecento’, Quaderni per la storia dell’Univ. di Padova 36 (2003), 109-33; Cenni sopra varie famiglie illustri di Verona (1855); La Miniatura a Padova (1999); C. Brizzi-C. Furlan, ‘Diplomi di laurea all’Università di Padova’, Quaderni per la storia dell’Univ. di Padova 32 (1999), 275-88; G. Baldissin Molli, ‘La decorazione pittorica nei diplomi dell’Università di Padova’, in G. Baldissin Molli et. al., eds, Diplomi di Laurea (1998).
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