December 3, 2012

Poem Concerning the Departure of the Magi

This 15th-century manuscript, in Renaissance script, contains a poetic composition (De profectione Magorum adorare Christum et de innocentibus interfectis ab Herode) by a "Gabriel Volaterranus." The author was in all likelihood Gabriello Zacchi da Volterra, the archpriest (acting dean, vicar to the bishop) of the cathedral, who was from a culturally sophisticated background and died in 1467 at the age of 33. The author dedicates the work to Tommaso del Testa Piccolomini, the secret assistant of Pope Pius II (folio 132r), to whom Pius had granted the privilege of kinship with the Piccolomini family. In 1460 Tommaso was also awarded the title of imperial counselor by Federico III da Montefeltro, with the honor of adding the imperial eagle to his coat of arms; subsequently he was made bishop of Sovana and later bishop of Pienza. The presence of the imperial eagle in Testa Piccolomini’s coat of arms within the decoration of the codex (folio 132r) suggests 1460 as the earliest possible plausible year for dating the manuscript. José Ruysschaert attributed the illuminated decoration, with its white vine-stem motifs, to Gioacchino de' Gigantibus, who was active in the early 1460s in the cultural circle of Pope Pius II. The manuscript is bound in a composite codex that gathers together five manuscripts of different age (dating from the end of the 13th century to circa 1521) and provenance, and which are also dissimilar in layout, graphic style, and format.

Sangallo’s Sienese Sketchbook

The so-called Sienese sketchbook of the famous architect and engineer Giuliano da Sangallo was originally in the library of Sienese scholar Giovanni Antonio Pecci. The librarian Giuseppe Ciaccheri, a committed and passionate collector who enriched the Biblioteca comunale degli Intronati di Siena with works of art of outstanding quality, acquired it in 1784. Together with the Codice Barberiniano in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, the sketchbook bears witness to the architect's prolific production of drawings and is a valuable source of knowledge about his work. The small format and the style of the drawings indicate that the book was a personal study and work tool. Extremely varied, it includes sketches, mostly with an architectural subject and often accompanied by measurements and technical notes, ideas for projects (such as the one for the dome of the Basilica of Saint Mary in Loreto), drawings of machine and artillery pieces, and copies of classical sculptures. It also has studies of monuments observed in the course of Giuliano’s travels in Italy and France (among which are triumphal arches and the Coliseum), copies of reliefs, drawings of decorations (panoplies, grotesques, frames), and even some sketches of capital letters from public inscriptions. Giuliano appears to have had a significant interest in medieval architecture, as attested, for instance, by the sketches of a number of buildings in Pisa and of the Tower of the Asinelli in Bologna. The leaf with the elevation of the Piccolomini Chapel in the Cathedral of Siena dates back to one of his stays in Siena. The sketchbook also contains plans for a building for the Sapienza of Siena, which, thanks to an inscription, can be linked to Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini's decision, circa 1492–93, to build a new structure in addition to the existing Sapienza (located since 1415 in the space previously occupied by the Misericordia Hospital and the present-day site of the Biblioteca comunale). The nature of these sketches is as yet unresolved: some scholars see them as drawings for the renovation of the existing building; others think they were the designs for a new building. A drawing in Pecci’s hand of a cross-section of the Sapienza building, based on Giuliano’s original plans, is inserted in the codex. The sketchbook provides a window into Giuliano’s deep and multi-layered artistic culture, as well as bears witness to his intense study of classical models as an integral part of his work. The drawings probably date to the architect's later years, from the 1490s to 1516. At folios 1v–2r are some glue-making recipes in a 16th-century hand not ascribable to Giuliano.

Antiquities of Samarkand. Inner Courtyard of the Shir Dar Madrasah (Eastern Side). Inscription around the Right Side of the Main Niche

This photograph of the interior courtyard of the Shir Dar Madrasah in Samarkand (Uzbekistan) is from the archeological part of Turkestan Album. The six-volume photographic survey was produced in 1871-72 under the patronage of General Konstantin P. von Kaufman, the first governor-general (1867-82) of Turkestan, as the Russian Empire’s Central Asian territories were called. The album devotes special attention to Samarkand’s Islamic architecture, such as 14th- and 15th-century monuments from the reign of Timur (Tamerlane) and his successors. In the center of Samarkand is the Registan ensemble, composed of three major examples of a madrasah (religious school). The second madrasah in the ensemble, the Shir Dar, was built in 1619-36, during the Astrakhanid dynasty. Despite significant damage over the centuries, it remains one of the most lavishly ornamented monuments in Central Asia. The madrasah consists of a rectangular courtyard enclosed by a two-story arcade with an iwan (vaulted hall, walled on three sides, with one end open) and a mosque on the eastern side. This photograph shows the left side of the iwan arch in the center of the east wall. The surfaces are covered with polychrome majolica tiles in elaborate geometric and botanical patterns, with particular prominence given to the six-pointed star. The horizontal panel contains an inscription in the Thuluth cursive style. Visible at left is the beginning of the arcade extending from the central arch.

Antiquities of Samarkand. Inner Courtyard of the Shir Dar Madrasah (Eastern Side). Detail of the Upper Section of the Main Niche

This photograph of the interior courtyard of the Shir Dar Madrasah in Samarkand (Uzbekistan) is from the archeological part of Turkestan Album. The six-volume photographic survey was produced in 1871-72 under the patronage of General Konstantin P. von Kaufman, the first governor-general (1867-82) of Turkestan, as the Russian Empire’s Central Asian territories were called. The album devotes special attention to Samarkand’s Islamic architecture, such as 14th- and 15th-century monuments from the reign of Timur (Tamerlane) and his successors. In the center of Samarkand is the Registan ensemble, composed of three major examples of a madrasah (religious school). The second madrasah in the ensemble, the Shir Dar, was built in 1619-36, during the Astrakhanid dynasty. Despite significant damage over the centuries, it remains one of the most lavishly ornamented monuments in Central Asia. The madrasah consists of a rectangular courtyard enclosed by a two-story arcade with an iwan (vaulted hall, walled on three sides, with one end open) and mosque in the east. This view shows the upper part of the east wall niche with the lattice work of the central window. The niche is covered with ceramic work composed of polychrome tiles in geometric and botanical patterns. The pointed window arch is framed by an inscription band in the Thuluth cursive style. Visible at the top are remnants of the “stalactite” decorative elements of the arch vault.

Antiquities of Samarkand. Inner Courtyard of the Shir Dar Madrasah (Western Side). Inscription on the Left Side of the Main Niche

This photograph of the interior courtyard of the Shir Dar Madrasah in Samarkand (Uzbekistan) is from the archeological part of Turkestan Album. The six-volume photographic survey was produced in 1871-72 under the patronage of General Konstantin P. von Kaufman, the first governor-general (1867-82) of Turkestan, as the Russian Empire’s Central Asian territories were called. The album devotes special attention to Samarkand’s Islamic architecture, such as 14th- and 15th-century monuments from the reign of Timur (Tamerlane) and his successors. In the center of Samarkand is the Registan ensemble, composed of three major examples of a madrasah (religious school). The second madrasah in the ensemble, the Shir Dar, was built in 1619-36, during the Astrakhanid dynasty. Despite significant damage over the centuries, it remains one of the most lavishly ornamented monuments in Central Asia. The form of this madrasah is typical for Central Asia, with a rectangular courtyard enclosed by a two-story arcade containing rooms for scholars. Visible here is the left side of the main arch niche of the west wall, with surfaces covered in polychrome majolica tiles. The main surface has large intersecting geometric figures that contain block Kufic script from the Kalima, the Islamic statement of faith. In the middle of this view is a horizontal cursive inscription. The surface is framed by vertical strips with floral patterns.

Antiquities of Samarkand. Inner Courtyard of the Shir Dar Madrasah (Western Side). Inscription on the Right Side of the Main Niche

This photograph of the interior courtyard of the Shir Dar Madrasah in Samarkand (Uzbekistan) is from the archeological part of Turkestan Album. The six-volume photographic survey was produced in 1871-72 under the patronage of General Konstantin P. von Kaufman, the first governor-general (1867-82) of Turkestan, as the Russian Empire’s Central Asian territories were called. The album devotes special attention to Samarkand’s Islamic architecture, such as 14th- and 15th-century monuments from the reign of Timur (Tamerlane) and his successors. In the center of Samarkand is the Registan ensemble, composed of three major examples of a madrasah (religious school). The second madrasah in the ensemble, the Shir Dar, was built in 1619-36, during the Astrakhanid dynasty. Despite significant damage over the centuries, it remains one of the most lavishly ornamented monuments in Central Asia. The form of this madrasah is typical for Central Asia, with a rectangular courtyard enclosed by a two-story arcade containing rooms for scholars. Visible here is the right side of the main arch niche of the west wall, with surfaces covered in polychrome majolica tiles. The main surface has large intersecting geometric figures that contain block Kufic script from the Kalima, the Islamic statement of faith. In the middle of the view is a horizontal cursive inscription. The surface is framed by vertical strips with floral patterns.