Parchment, a vast single leaf, c. 475×360mm, preserving all four margins, blind-ruled for two columns of 59 lines, written in a fine Italian Romanesque bookhand, decorated with a large (12 lines high) initial drawn in ink, coloured with a yellow wash, engulfed in coiling white-vine foliage, against a parti-coloured ground of red, blue, and green; used as a book-cover and thus with typical stains, creases, etc., and several pen-trials by 17th-century Italian hands.
(1) The parent volume was apparently still in use in the 15th century, when the date “xvii kl. Feb.” (16 January) was added immediately before the reading for St Marcellus.
(2) Broken-up probably in the 16th century, and this leaf used as the cover of a bookbinding, apparently of a very tall, narrow, ledger-format volume, whose front cover has a title written over an area of erasure: “1547 – 1548 bastardello ba(n)ci mei(?) Evangeliste” (a bastardèllo was a register kept by notaries to record deeds of different kinds in a single non-homogeneous series, hence the name).
(3) Sold as part of Sotheby’s, 7 December 2010, lot 3 (illustrated in colour in the catalogue).
The recto begins with the final paragraphs of the reading for the feast on 15 January of St Maurus, disciple of St Benedict (BHL, no. 5773), followed by the first few lines of a reading from the Gospel of Matthew, with a rubric indicating that the rest of it may be found in the feast on 25 January of the Conversion of St Paul (“Require in conversio sancti Pauli”). There follows a decorated initial ‘T’ introducing the reading for the feast on 16 January of the 4th-century Pope St Marcellus (“In sancti Marcelli pape. Tempore quo Maximianus Augustus rediens de partibus Africe …”, (BHL, no. 5234/5, continuing on the verso with the (partly erased) start of the reading for St Cyriacus, “Et dum multo tempore in custodia esset beatus Cyriacus …”; cf. BHL, no. 2057).
In the early 15th century, the first Humanistic scholars looked for inspiration to 12th-century Italian manuscripts written and decorated like this (mistakenly believing them to be ancient Classical volumes) when developing their new forms of script and decoration. Their reform of script and decoration was intended to reject the ugliness and illegibility of Gothic hands, and return to a far more elegant and legible aesthetic, with fewer abbreviations, more variety between letter-forms, and more generously spaced words and lines.