SALLUST [and] CICERO De Coniuratione Catilinae (The Catiline Conspiracy) [and] De Amicitia and De Senectute, in Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum

[Italy, (perhaps Florence), second half of 15th century]


213 by 144 mm, 58 leaves, the Sallust text complete, but a single gathering wanting from the end of the last of the last and supplementary Cicero texts, once containing the last chapters of De Senectute (the present witness ending with “sic illum quasi desipientem a re familiarie …” in ch. 22), collation: i10, ii8, iii-vi10, single column, 25 lines in brown ink in a professional humanist hand with traces of secretarial influence, a few contemporary or near-contemporary interlinear corrections and markers for parts of text in margin, three illuminated initials with white vine decoration, frontispiece with full border of white vine decoration entwined around an ornate gold frame, the foliage on blue, green and pink grounds and enclosed within a blue border flecked with sets of three white dots and enclosed with bezants, enclosing realistic birds, roundels and quadrilobed shapes enclosing other birds and a reclining deer, and two naked putti holding a coat of arms in the bas-de-page (see below), some small stains and slight cockling in places, but overall a fine and clean copy, solid in early nineteenth-century binding of marbled pasteboards with red morocco spine with paper collection labels (“144”), probably that of Boutourlin (see below).

Sallust (86-c. 35 BC; and more correctly Gaius Sallustius Crispus), was a Roman politician and celebrated historian, with this text being the oldest surviving Roman history which we can attach to a known author, and certainly the first to introduce explanation and the influence of character into historical reporting. It was written between 44 and 40 BC., and contains the history of the crucial year 63 BC, in which Catiline as a follower of Sulla (and thus at political odds with Sallust and his patron Julius Caesar) attempted to lead a party of Roman nobles and disaffected veterans in an attempt to overthrow the Republic.

The work was popular among contemporaries, with Martial declaring that “Sallust, according to the judgment of the learned, will rank as the prince of Roman historiographers”, but survived Antiquity in perhaps as few as one or two witnesses, which were rediscovered and copied during the Carolingian Renaissance. The text may have been championed by the grand Carolingian humanist Lupus of Ferrières, who records in his letters a search for a copy (perhaps more complete copy) of the text. Accordingly, the five earliest surviving manuscripts are all from France and Germany (BnF. lat. 16024, second half of ninth century, Soissons; BnF. lat. 16025, mid-ninth century, Auxerre; BnF. lat. 6085, first half ninth century, France; BnF. lat. 5748, ninth century, France; and Basle AN. IV 11, first half of ninth century, southern Germany). However, unlike many other Classical authors interest in Sallust was slow in the centuries after this initial wave of interest, but exploded with the Italian Renaissance producing over 500 known manuscripts (see L.D. Reynolds, Texts and Transmissions, 1983, p. 345, n. 24).

That said, the text is far from common in manuscript on the market, with almost all available copies being energetically pursued by institutions for several centuries. The last copies to come to the market are that once owned by the duc de La Vallière, offered for sale by Christie’s New York, 24 November 1993, lot 24; another sold by Sotheby’s, 18 June 1991; and that, once Phillipps MS. 2945, sold by Bloomsbury, 9 April 1987, lot 269. All of these were contemporary with the present copy and no earlier witness has been available at auction since the 1920s or 1930s. The single recorded copy offered by a dealer in the same period is the fifteenth-century manuscript offered in Bernard Rosenthal’s, List 13, 1955, no. 4, and now at Columbia University.

The presence of the small green parrot in the border of the frontispiece does point towards the humanist illuminator Giacchino de Gigantibus, named “librarius et miniator” to King Ferdinand I of Naples, active in 1472, at the papal court by 1480, and who died in 1485 (compare for example the manuscript of Seneca, now BnF. ms. Lat. 17842). However, his style was popular and widespread, and the identification of the arms here as Florentine suggests that this was the work of a skilled illuminator from that city who was influenced by Giacchino’s work.

Provenance:1. The arms in the bas-de-page of the frontispiece appear to have been painted with the rest of the decoration. The silver-gilt escutcheon with red chevron and gilt mountain formed by six hills corresponds to the coat of arms of a wealthy Florentine family, the Ciacchi, specifically the branch of the quarter of Santa Croce. From mid-fourteenth century, they were at the head of local administration as gonfalonieri, reaching the peak of their power in the late Quattrocento under Lorenzo the Magnificent, around the time when this manuscript was commissioned. 2. D. Bourtourlin, (more properly Graf Dimitri Petrovic Burtulin, 1763-1849, and often confused with a Russian military general of the same name who lived a generation later): his printed armorial bookplate. He was the son of a prominent Russian senator and godson of Catherine the Great, who served as first adjutant of one of her favourites: Prince Grigory Aleksandrovitch Potemkin, before entering the foreign service. In 1793 he resigned his position and devoted himself entirely to the building of his private library. The library was notably strong in Classical texts and after five years collecting was reported to contain 14,000-15,000 volumes (A.F. de Piles, Voyage de deux Français en Allemagne, Danemarck, Suède, Russie et Pologne fait en 1790-1792, Paris, 1796, III, pp. 342-343). By 1812 it contained some 40,000 books, and was valued at 1 million rubles. It was totally destroyed in the fire which overtook Moscow when the city was breached by Napoleonic troops in September 1812 (see Comte Rostopchine, La Vérité sur l’incendie de Moscou, Paris, 1823, pp. 46-47). Following this loss, Bourtoulin abandoned Russia for Florence where he began to construct a second library as a distraction from his turbulent contemporary times, declaring in 1819 that “Cicero, Dante, Pascal, etc. are my best friends, and much better company than most illustrious people today”. By his death it numbered some 25,000 books, including 244 manuscripts and 964 printed editions of the fifteenth century. It was dispersed post-mortem in a series of French sales, in which this volume was Paris, 25 November 1839, lot 2169, sold for Fr 59.3. Most of the manuscripts in that sale were acquired by the celebrated polymath, bibliographer and notorious book-thief, Guglielmo Libri (1803-1869), but the present volume appears to have passed directly to the ducs de Luynes, and their ancestral library in the Château de Dampierre; that dispersed 2013.
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