PLATINA, Bartolomeo Sacchi da.
A HOLY KNIGHT’S COPY
In vitas pontificum ad Sixtum IV[Treviso or Venice], Giovanni Rosso, 10 February 1485
Fol., 135 unnumbered leaves, missing final blank. Roman letter. Intermittent and mainly marginal foxing, light oil splashes to blank margins of a few ll., ink stain at blank gutter of last two gatherings and spot affecting one word on three ll. of text, blank recto of first fol. soiled. A very good, well-margined copy in c.1700 polished sheep, covers single blind ruled, gilt ornamental motif to outer edges, spine with raised bands, gilt fleurons and foliage decoration in compartments, gilt title label, marbled pastedowns, a.e.r. C16 ms. ex libris “Claudius de Britonis Miles Sanctissimi Sepolchri 1552” and “Nunc vero ex lib. Joannis Morelly doctor” to recto of first, C19 ms. notes in French concerning the ex libris to verso of fly.
A good copy of this incunable edition of Platina’s classic and influential ‘Lives of the popes’ (first 1479), beautifully printed by the Italian Giovanni Rosso, active in Treviso and Venice during the second half of the 15th century.
This volume belonged to Claudius de Britonis, a “miles sanctissimi sepulchri”, meaning knight of the Holy Sepulchre. The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre traces its origin back to the first crusade. After the capture of Jerusalem in 1099, the order was established, and the mission of its knights – who fought in the subsequent crusades – was to defend the tomb of Christ. In the Renaissance, the Order continued to defend and support the Christian faith in the Holy Land. Claude de Berton (b. 1535), lord of Crillon and Saint Jean de Vassols, “chevalier de l’ordre du Pape et de celui du Roi” (Vie de Louis de Berton de Crillon des Balbes, 1825, p. 170), commanded the troops of the Pope at the siege of Menerbe near Avignone in 1574. The name ‘Berton’ was commonly latinized as “De Britonis” or “Briton”.
The Italian Renaissance humanist Bartolomeo Sacchi (1421-1481), was born to a poor family of Piadena. Known as Platina, from the Latin name of his birthplace, he refused to use the surname Sacchi as it betrayed his humble origins. In his youth, he served as a mercenary soldier under Francesco Sforza and Niccolò Piccinino, then studied in Mantua and later in Florence. In 1462, he followed the young cardinal Francesco Gonzaga to Rome and obtained a post in the papal chancery as abbreviator. After a series of disagreements with Pope Paul II, which lead to Platina being imprisoned twice, accused of heresy and even tortured, he obtained the favour of Sixtus IV, who appointed him Prefect of the Vatican Library (the subject of a great fresco by Melozzo da Forlì).
Platina’s ‘Lives of the popes’, from St. Peter up to the accession of Sixtus IV, was the first systematic handbook of Papal history, undertaken at the behest of Sixtus. Elegantly written in the form of individual biographies arranged chronologically, on the model of Suetonius’s ‘De vita caesarum’, this work was based on several written sources, including the Liber pontificalis, on Platina’s own experience and notably oral sources. The author’s aim was to produce a modern work on papal history, improving the Latin of the earlier medieval accounts: “Instead of the confused and often fabulous Chronicles of the Middle ages, we find here for the first time a clear and serviceable handbook of real history. The graphic descriptions, the elegant, perspicuous, and yet concise, style of the work have won for Platina’s “Lives of the Popes” many readers even down to the present day” (Pastor). A remarkably critical and innovative historian, Platina is not always impartial: he is particularly venomous about Paul II, who had made him redundant from his position in the College of Abbreviators (“cruel and an enemy of science”) and had him imprisoned as the author of a defamatory pamphlet. Platina is also often disparaging about the conditions in the Church, mentioning nepotism and corruption.
According to a manuscript note, Jean Morelli is the author of a history of the wars of religion (never printed), in which Berton actively participated. Nevertheless, Jean Morelli (or Morély, 1524-1594) is also the name of a French protestant theologian of Geneva, close to Calvin and author of a treatise on ecclesiastic discipline (‘Traicté de la discipline et police chretienne’, 1564).USTC 991953; ISTC ip00770000; Goff P770; Brunet IV, p. 692; Graesse V, p. 312; BMC VI 897 Not in BM STC It. L.F. von Pastor, The History of the Popes, vol IV (1894).