Gratian's "Decretum" with Commentary by Bartholomew of Brescia


Presented here is an example of the best-known text of medieval canon law used in 13th and 14th century European universities, which was compiled by the 12th century Bolognese jurist Gratianus. Both the script and the lavish decoration of this impressive parchment manuscript, which contains 342 leaves and measures half a meter in height, are representative of the rich tradition of illustrated legal texts produced in 14th century Bologna, a center for law studies. The text belongs to the Laurentian type; the surrounding commentary is the revision by Bartholomew of Brescia (died 1258) of his Glossa Ordinaria. The illustrations underline the major divisions of the text: large miniatures are placed at the beginning of Part I, Part II, and De poenitentia (On repentance); 36 smaller miniatures illustrate each of the causae (hypothetical or fictitious causes); several hundred historiated and calligraphic initials mark the distinctiones (collections of reasoning formulated by jurists) and quaestiones (debatable points concerning disputes). The outstanding quality of the illumination suggests that they originate from the workshop of Niccolò di Giacomo da Bologna (circa 1330‒1403), one of the most famous and prolific miniaturists of the 14th century. As is characteristic in the Bolognese versions of the Decretum, the iconography of this manuscript emphasizes in many places that God is the source of both canon and civil law.

Last updated: January 10, 2018