Seven Books of the Saturnalia


This codex from the Plutei Collection of the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence contains the complete text of Saturnalia by the fourth−fifth century Latin author Macrobius. The work takes the form of a series of dialogues among learned men at a fictional banquet at which they discuss antiquities, history, literature, mythology, and other topics. The manuscript may have been copied by a scribe belonging to Bernardo Nuzzi’s circle of copyists in Florence. It organizes the seven original books of Macrobius into five books. The inscription on the recto of folio 117 states: “This book belonged to King Matthias of Hungary; bought in Constantinople by the French orator and envoy Sir Antonio Bruciolo in the form it was sent to me by Pier Francesco Riccio on the date 29 February 1544.” Matthias Corvinus of Hungary (1443–90) created the Bibliotheca Corviniana, in its day one of Europe’s finest libraries. After his death, and especially after the conquest of Buda by the Turks in 1541, the library was dispersed and much of the collection was destroyed, with the surviving volumes scattered all over Europe. The Plutei Collection, which holds a number of volumes from the Corvinus Library, 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