October 16, 2012

General Atlas of All the Islands in the World

Islario general de todas las islas del mundo (General atlas of all the islands in the world) is the greatest work by Seville cosmographer Alonso de Santa Cruz (1505–67). The atlas was begun during the reign of Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain Charles V and finished in that of his son King Philip II, to whom it was dedicated. It consists of 111 maps representing all the islands and peninsulas of the world, and showing all the discoveries made by European explorers from 1400 to the mid-16th century. The atlas begins with a letter by Santa Cruz to the king, in which he justifies his work and explains different geographic concepts. Preceding the maps is “Breve introducción de la Sphera” in which Santa Cruz makes a cosmographic description, illustrated by 14 astronomical figures. The maps are organized in four parts: the first deals with the North Atlantic; the second, with the Mediterranean and adjacent areas; the third, with Africa and the Indian Ocean; and the fourth with the New World. The maps include scales in latitude and some in longitude and bodies of water with varied scales and oriented with compass roses. The Islario general is the earliest atlas in which paper is used, instead of the parchment that was previously most commonly used for such charts. The design of the maps is more functional, with less attention to aesthetics and more to geographic detail than in the late-medieval portolan maps and atlases. Scholars have determined, on the basis of the dates that appear in the descriptive texts on the islands, that the maps were made beginning in the fourth decade of the 16th century, around 1539, and that the entire atlas was completed circa 1560. It is highly probable that the Islario general was a part of a Geografía Universal that Santa Cruz never finished. Santa Cruz was one of the key figures of the Casa de Contratación (House of Trade) in Seville. One of his first works was a set of the spherical charts of the New World. He created various other works on cosmography and geography, such as the Libro de longitudes; and on historical themes, including  Crónica de los Reyes Católicos (Chronicle of the Catholic kings) and Crónica de Carlos V (Chronicle of Charles V). Following Santa Cruz’s death, his successor, Andrés García de Céspedes, attempted to claim credit for this work. On the cover the name Alonso de Santa Cruz has been erased, García de Céspedes’s name is inserted as if he were the author, and the work is dedicated to King Philip III. In the manuscript itself, apocryphal texts have been superimposed over the originals, with the aim of disguising the real authorship and date of creation.

The Defeat of Montaperti

This manuscript is an illustrated account of the events relating to the famous Battle of Montaperti of September 4, 1260, which is mentioned by Dante in The Divine Comedy. The battle resulted in the victory of the armed faction of the Ghibellines, supporting the Holy Roman Emperor and led by Siena, over the Guelphs, supporting the pope and led by Florence. The manuscript was written and illustrated throughout by Niccolò di Giovanni di Francesco di Ventura da Siena, who signed it and stated that he completed the text on December 1, 1442, and the illustrations the following year. Little is known about Niccolò other than his name, which is first recorded in September 1402. He appeared on the list of the members of the painters' guild in 1428 and died on April 1, 1464. It is generally agreed that the text is the result of an elaboration of the myth of Montaperti, dating from at least a century earlier, and that it was copied from one or more previous accounts, perhaps with insertions of further facts and information gathered from secondary sources. The illustrations, still bearing 14th-century stylistic traits, also were in all likelihood reproduced from older models. In the absence of contemporary records of the battle, this very popular account represents a precious historical source, thanks to its apparent accuracy and to the richness of its illustrations. The manuscript belonged to the Carmelite prior general, Giovanni Battista Caffardi. It was transferred from its original location in the convent of San Niccolò in Siena to the Biblioteca comunale degli Intronati di Siena in the 18th century by command of Grand Duke of Tuscany Pietro Leopoldo.


This antiphonary (a book containing the choral parts of the Holy Office) was transferred to the Biblioteca comunale degli Intronati di Siena in 1811 from its place of origin, the Augustinian monastery of San Salvatore in Lecceto near Siena. By virtue of its specific liturgical function, the antiphonary, designed for the use of the monastic community, contains both the daytime and the nocturnal services. It was illuminated in 1442 as part of an extensive artistic program within the monastery promoted under priors Bartolomeo Tolomei and Girolamo Buonsignori. A bull by Pope Eugene IV in 1446 granted Lecceto independence from the Augustinian vicar general, placing it at the head of a vast network of monasteries. The peculiarities of the manuscript’s iconography, closely linked to the liturgical content, denote a specific visual program, undertaken especially for the Lecceto community. The Sienese painter Giovanni di Paolo has been definitively identified as responsible for completing most of the work’s illuminations. These are mainly historiated initials (decorated with people, animals, or scenes), but also include a depiction of the "Triumph of Death" placed at the beginning of the service for the dead (folio 162r). In this manuscript, the artist brings to fruition his extraordinary ability to render narrative scenes with striking originality. The other illustrations (five initials, of which four are historiated with a Marian subject and one is decorated) belong to a different hand in both technique and style and are the work of an extremely accomplished anonymous master. This master has been variously thought to belong to the Sienese school (the name of Priamo della Quercia has been suggested; so too has Domenico di Bartolo), the Umbrian school, or the Po Valley school.

Atlas of Joan Martines

This manuscript atlas by Joan Martines, cosmographer to King Philip II of Spain, dated 1587, represents the combination of two cartographic schools that existed at the time of its creation. The older one was the traditional school of Majorca, which specialized in decorative portolan maps that by this time were obsolete with regard to the geographic information they conveyed. The newer one was the cartographic school of the Low Countries, which applied Renaissance principles and used different forms of cartographic representation based on new concepts in astronomy, mathematics, and geography to produce maps containing more information than the traditional portolans. The atlas consists of 19 maps, each on two pages, with the drawings occupying nearly the length of the pages and framed by edgings of different colors. Place-names are given in Gothic letters, in red and black ink, and in Roman small capitals. There are six nautical charts, 11 regional maps, and two maps of the world, all luxuriously illuminated in colored-wash drawing, with panes of gold and silver. Most of the maps have a large compass rose showing 16 or 32 directions, and some of the maps depict ships sailing the seas.

Minor Works of Dante Alighieri

This small manuscript, dating to the late-15th century, in Renaissance script, contains poems from the Rime (Rhymes) by the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321). These are so-called minor works that are distinguished from Dante’s Vita nuova (The new life), his book of sonnets recounting his early love for Beatrice, and his all-encompassing allegorical masterpiece, La divina commedia (The divine comedy). On the front cover is a 15th-century note, now almost totally faded, which states: "Di Cosimo de' Medici e degli Amici" (Belonging to Cosimo de’ Medici and his friends). The manuscript is bound in a composite codex that gathers together five manuscripts of different ages (dating from the end of the 13th century to circa 1521) and provenance, and which are also dissimilar in layout, graphic style, and format.

Collection of Speeches and Latin Epistles by Renaissance Humanists

This manuscript, dating to the late-15th century, formerly belonged to the Sienese Alessandro Tegliacci, as stated in a note written on the initial page by an unknown later owner: "Dedit mihi Alex(ande)r Tegliaccius die(?) 8 decembris 1581 atque sua humanitate donavit" (Alessandro Tegliacci kindly gave this to me as a gift on December 8, 1581). The decoration on the same leaf bears the coat of arms of the Tegliacci family. Alessandro can perhaps be identified as the scholar who was called by Cosimo II to be professor of humanities of the Studio (university) of Siena in 1609. The manuscript is comprised of a collection of speeches and Latin epistles by several Renaissance humanists: Oratio ad pontificem Nicolaum V by Giannozzo Manetti (folios 49–58r); other orations addressed to the same recipient by Poggio Bracciolini (folios 58v–66v) and Francesco Micheli del Padovano (folios 66v–71v); Oratiuncula ad Martinum V by Leonardo Bruni; and Florentinorum epistula ad imperatorem Federicum III and Florentinorum epistula ad Concilium Basiliense (folios 74r–79v). The manuscript is bound in a composite codex that gathers together five manuscripts of different ages (dating from the end of the 13th century to circa 1521) and provenance, and which are also dissimilar in layout, graphic style, and format.