Concerning Virgins and Other Works


This codex of De virginibus seu potius opera varia (Concerning virgins and other works) by Saint Ambrose (circa 340−97) is from the Plutei Collection of the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence. The book has the distinctive Medici red leather binding and a beautifully illuminated first page (recto of folio 1) executed by Matteo da Milano (active circa 1492−circa 1523). On the last page, the colophon gives the name of the copyist as “Martinus Antonius” and the date of completion as “Ides of October 1489.” Ambrose was born in Trèves (Trier, Germany) but moved to Rome at a young age. He became bishop of Milan in 374. The author of many exegetic and theological works, he is one of the most important fathers of the Christian Church. De virginibus seu potius opera varia is a compilation of eight works in which Ambrose addresses issues of particular concern to audiences in the Milanese and northern Italian Christian community: consecrated virgins, widows, monks, and priests. These writings are associated with his persistent effort to convert adults from Roman paganism to Christianity. The Plutei Collection consists of the approximately 3,000 manuscripts and books from the private holdings of the Medici family, which, bound in red leather with the Medici coat of arms, were arranged on the benches of the Laurenziana when the library first opened to the public in 1571. Cosimo de’ Medici (1389−1464) is known to have owned 63 books in 1417−18, which grew to 150 by the time of his death. His sons Piero (1416−69) and Giovanni (1421−63) vied with each other in commissioning illuminated manuscripts. Lorenzo il Magnifico (1449−92), son of Piero, acquired a great number of Greek codices and, starting in the 1480s, ordered copies of all texts lacking in the library with the aim of transforming the Medici library into an important center of research. Following the expulsion of the Medici from Florence in 1494, the books were taken from the family. Giovanni de’ Medici, elected Pope Leo X in 1513, restored the collection to the Medici, and another Medici pope, Clement VII (Giulio de' Medici), organized the establishment of the Laurenziana.

Last updated: January 8, 2018