9 Highlights from the Maurice Burrus Collection

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[SFORZA – ARAGON HOURS]. Officium Beatae Mariae Virginis ad usum Romanum Illumin...

[SFORZA – ARAGON HOURS]. Officium Beatae Mariae Virginis ad usum Romanum

Illuminated manuscript on parchment, produced by BARTOLOMEO SANVITO and GASPARE da PADOVA, [Ferrara (?) and Rome, c. 1483].

216 ff., 149 x 110 mm, 11 long lines (17 for the calendar), writing space 59 x 42 mm (64 x 64 for the calendar). Sanvito’s formal humanistic hand in brown; 10 openings with headings in small epigraphic capitals in alternating gold and blue by Sanvito, and full-page illumination by Gaspare (ff. 13, 27v, 47, 54, 61, 67v, 74, 85, 121, 157). Binding signed Gruel (before 1938), on brown-red morocco, triple-fillet gilt decoration, 5-band spine, board edges decorated, bookblock edges gilt, title «Horae» gilt.


Contents : Calendar (1-12v) – Officium Beate Marie Virginis (13-118v) – ff.  119 and 120 blank  – Septem psalmi poenitentiales (121-156) – 156v blank (signed P)  – Officium mortuorum (157 – 214) – ff. 214v, 215 et 216 blank (the latter signed X).

 Collation : 112 (calendar, unsigned), 2-1110, 128, 13-1510, 166, 17-2210, alphabetical signatures «A-X» in black ink on last versos, leaf signatures cropped away. 3 sets of modern foliation in pencil : a) “14-215” [i.e. ff. 13-214] in the upper right corner, including the upper flyleaf in the count; b) “1-204” for the text, and “205-216” for the calendar in the lower right corner, suggesting the misplacing of the calendar at the end of the volume by an earlier binder;  c) “1-217” in the upper right corner, including the lower flyleaf only. Ruled in brown ink for single vertical bounders (but three on the left and one on the right for the calendar) and 11 horizontal ruled/written lines (17 for the calendar) traced with a rake, no visible pricking. 

 Illumination and decoration :

- Two monumental all’antica openings for the Office of the Virgin (f. 13) and the Poenitential Psalms (f. 121), with impaled arms of Visconti-Sforza (on the dexter) and Aragon (on the sinister) surmounted by a ducal coronet, inhabited faceted initials in gold, with Virgin and Child (f. 13; 5-line high) and King David (f. 121; 7-line high), winged putti, two bears pulling a trolley with a vase of flowers and ears of millet (the Aragon emblem) in the bas-de-page of f. 13 (see Claudius Tolomaeus, Cosmographia, Paris, BnF, MS. Latin 4802, f. 2r), and a palm tree (the Sforza emblem) on f. 121 (Armstrong, pp. 392-3, nn. 28-30).

- One all'antica architectural opening for the Office of the Dead (f. 157), with plinths, vases and cornucopiae, a faceted initial in gold (7-line-high) inhabited by a young lady holding a skull, and winged putti holding the cornucopiae or contemplating a skull on a sarcophagus.

- Four all'antica openings (ff. 27v, 54, 74, 85), with inhabited faceted initials in gold (5- to 6-line high) with busts of apostles and saints, the texts in epigraphic capitals inscribed within an arch of candelabrae and laurel leaves (f. 27v, Laude), stelae on plinths (ff. 54 and 85, Terce and Compline), or two palms adorned by oak-leaves wreaths, united by floral arch (f. 74, Vespers).

- Three openings (ff. 47, 61, 67v), with faceted initials in gold (5-line high) inhabited by busts of apostles and saints, within full borders in foliate design forming a frame (f. 47, Prime), emerging from a vase (f. 61, Sexte) or sprouting from a column base (torus) as a floral candelabrum extending in rows of stylized florets (f. 67v, None).

- Minor gold initials (2-line high), set against coloured grounds of blue, red, green and purple (sequence occasionally altered) with gold-dot decoration, throughout; headings in alternating gold and blue throughout; explicits in blue.


This Book of Hours or Offiziolo was an augural gift for the marital union between Gian Galeazzo Sforza (1469-1494), son and heir of the Duke of Milan, and princess Isabella of Aragon (1470-1524), grand-daughter of the King of Naples, Ferrante I of Aragon (1423-1494; r. from 1458), as clearly stated by the Visconti-Sforza and Aragon impaled arms and emblems prominently displayed in the two major openings of the manuscript (ff. 13 and 121).

The marriage between the two youths was first arranged by King Ferrante and Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza in 1472. The formal betrothal was signed in Naples and then Milan in the spring of 1480 after Ludovico Sforza, known as Ludovico il Moro, had secured the regency of seven-year old Gian Galeazzo, following the assassination of his brother Galeazzo Maria in December 1476. The marriage took place by proxy in Naples on 21 December 1488 and was finally celebrated in Milan on 2 February 1489. The wedding celebrations lasted well into the following year, including a «Festa del Paradiso» on 13 January 1490 with a stage set designed by Leonardo da Vinci, artist and scientist in residence at the court of Milan.


The manuscript was identified by A. C. de la Mare in the early 1980s as in the hand of Bartolomeo Sanvito of Padua. Active between the early 1450s and 1511, Sanvito is probably the most famous among the Italian scribes of the Quattrocento and was much in demand among the most sophisticated collectors of the time, including Cardinal Francesco and Marquis Federico Gonzaga, Lorenzo de’ Medici, and King Matthias Corvinus.

No less than 126 manuscripts signed or attributed to him survive.

The Offiziolo surfaced from oblivion in August 1938 in the Hoepli sale of Walter Ashburner’s collection at Lucerne (lot 119), was purchased by Maurice Burrus, and immediately disappeared from public view once again, its location unknown until now.

de la Mare, however, was able to identify Sanvito’s hand from the black and white images of the two major openings in the 1938 sale catalogue. The same catalogue served as the source for the description of the manuscript as no. 89 in de la Mare’s posthumous catalogue of Sanvito’s manuscripts, completed by the present writer, and edited by A.R.A. Hobson and C. de Hamel in 2009 (DLM henceforth).

de la Mare was, as usual, right: the elegant formal humanistic hand of the Offiziolo is unquestionably Sanvito’s, impeccably professional and yet so extraordinarily light and lively as to surprise the reader at each turning of the page.


A mere eight manuscripts by Sanvito are still in private hands: Maestro Martino, Libro de arte coquinaria, possibly copied for Cardinal Ludovico Trevisan and later owned by Baron Pichon (Christie’s, London, 14 November 1974, lot 459; DLM 33), Martial’s Epigrammata for an unidentified patron and now in the Durazzo collection at Genoa (DLM 66), the Suetonius, Vitae imperatorum, copied for Ludovico Agnelli, bishop of Cosenza, and given by Ferdinand VII, king of Spain, to the Duke of Wellington in 1813 (DLM 70), Petrarch’s Rime formerly in the Abbey collection, its early provenance unknown (DLM 101), the Landau-Finaly Cicero, De oratore, produced in 1499 for Ludovico Andreasi of Mantua (LM 105), the Chatsworth Sylloge of Giovanni Giocondo (DLM 112) and the Bodmer Petrarca, Rime (DLM 115), both datable to the early 1500s. The Offiziolo is the only prayer book and the sole manuscript made for a royal woman among these.


The Sforza – Aragona Hours belongs to a group of twelve prayer books produced by Sanvito, between 1464-66 and 1508, the twelfth, and tiniest of all, discovered at Bologna, Bibl. dell’Archiginnasio, by D. Guernelli after the publication of DLM (Guernelli). Like all others, it is simple in contents, with the Office of the Virgin, followed by the Poenitential Psalms, the Office of the Dead and the Office of the Cross (now lost, a faint offset of the heading visible on f. 216v), and was copied in formal humanistic hand or littera antiqua.

Sanvito is generally identified with the formalized cursive humanistic bookhand that prepared the ground for the Italic script and typeface, favoured by sixteenth-century calligraphers and printers. His formal hand, however, was equally elegant: he employed it in a number of codices, such as the famous Virgil for Ludovico Agnelli, (DLM 74) and - in playful conjunction with the cursive hand - in his copies of Eusebius, Chronici canones (DLM 35, 50, 77-78, 87) and Giovanni Giocondo, Sylloge (DLM 51, 92, 96, 104, 110-112, 123)

His use of the littera antiqua for Books of Hours was a revolutionary one as, at the time, devotional books were still written in the traditional Gothic littera textualis. His example was followed by a small but selected group of scribes, mostly working in Florence or Naples, such as Antonio Sinibaldi and Alessandro di Antonio di Simone da Firenze (Nuvoloni, «Bartolomeo Sanvito and Tilly de la Mare», 2016, pp. 264-5).

Sanvito’s littera antiqua is poised and confident, elegant but restrained, showing none of its late flourishing or trembling. The heading are in his small epigraphic capitals: regular, set and well spaced out, with small letters superscript or written inside another for abbreviations. Overall, the hand finds a close match in the Hours for Diomede Carafa (Vat. lat. 9490; DLM 49) and the small Offiziolo broken up by Otto Ege (DLM 79; ; Stonemann, Nuvoloni and Kidd), respectively dated to about 1469 and early 1480s by de la Mare. According to C. Dondi, though, the Carafa Hours was possibly copied from a Venetian Jenson edition of c. 1475 (ISTC ih00357270) as their calendars closely match: hence, it may also date after 1475 (Dondi, pp. 126-8). A date in the early 1480s is also plausible for this Offiziolo, anticipating the date of about 1488-9 suggested in the 2009 catalogue.


No other surviving manuscript was produced by Sanvito for the Sforzas. This is also the only manuscript written in full by him for any member of the Aragon family. Otherwise, he only supplied coloured headings to seven manuscripts illuminated by Gaspare da Padua for Cardinal Giovanni of Aragon, including a Valerius Maximus, Facta et dicta memorabilia, written by Antonio Sinibaldi between 1482 and 1484 (New York Public Library, Spencer MS. 20), and the Caecilius Cyprianus, Epistulae and Opuscula, copied from the editio princeps of 1471 by Giovanni Rinaldo Mennio in the early 1480s (Paris, BnF, Lat. 1659). For the complete list of manuscripts rubricated by Sanvito for Cardinal Giovanni of Aragon and his brother Alfonso, see DLM pp. 243, 263.


The manuscript beautiful openings in all’antica style are undoubtedly attributable to Gaspare da Padua, a talented pupil of Mantegna. Gaspare was one of the «familiares et continui commensales» of Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga from about 1466 to the prelate’s death in October 1483, serving both as illuminator and antiquarian, searching coins, medals, sculptures and « altre cose antiche» for him (Chambers; Toscano). In 1469 Sanvito joined the household as the cardinal’s steward and the two artists collaborated in the production of manuscripts for the cardinal, such as a Dyctis Cretensis (Dublin, Chester Beatty Library, MS. W.122) and the famous Homer (Vat.gr.1626; DLM 61 and 72), but also for Ludovico and Federico Gonzaga, marquises of Mantua, the Medicis, Pope Sixtus IV, and Bernardo Bembo, possibly the patron of a superb Suetonius (Paris, BnF, MS. Latin 5814; DLM 57). From about 1478 Gaspare was also illuminating manuscripts copied by other scribes for Alfonso of Aragon (1448-1495), duke of Calabria, and father to Isabella, and his brother Cardinal Giovanni (1456-1485), who employed him from 1484 to 1485, following the deaths of Francesco and Federico Gonzaga.

The openings in the present manuscript display the sculptural forms and antiquarian manner inherited by Gaspare from Mantegna and the brilliant colours typical of his works from the late 1460s to the early 1480s, as in the Caesar of about 1469 (Rome, Bibl. Casanatense, MS. 453; DLM 47), the Dublin Dictys Cretensis of c. 1475-1477, and the Valerius Maximus in New York, datable to 1482-4 (Toscano).

The images of apostles and saints in the inhabited initials closely recall the portraits of virtues in the frontispiece of the Valerius Maximus or of the author in the Cyprian for Cardinal Giovanni. The classical frames surrounding opening texts in the Offiziolo (ff. 27v, 54, 74, 85) find equivalents in a Plutarch for Cardinal Gonzaga or his brother Federico of about 1471 (Carpentras, Bibl. Inguimbertine, MS. 618; DLM 54), in manuscripts for Sixtus IV of 1474-5 and 1478 (Vat.lat.2044 and 1888; DLM 59 and 68), in the Josephus Flavius, Bellum Judaicum, written probably in Rome about 1478 by an anonymous imitator of Sanvito for the Duke of Calabria (València, Universitat de València, Bibl. Històrica, BH MS. MS. 836), and in the already mentions Aragon Cyprian (for all the manuscript illuminated by Gaspare, please refer to Toscano bibliography).

The epigraphic faceted initials of the openings were probably drawn by Sanvito and painted over by Gaspare as in the Vatican Homer, whereas the peculiar full-border floral decorations (ff. 47, 61, 67v), made up of the same stylized florets as the stucco motif adorning the classical frames (see f. 85), find no comparison and must be Gaspare’s idiosyncratic way of revisiting the traditional Milanese flourished borders.


The Offiziolo must be added to 8 famous manuscripts created by Sanvito and Gaspare without other collaborators: the early Casanatense Caesar of 1469; Platina’s De optime cive for Lorenzo and Calderini’s Commentaria in Juvenalis for Giuliano di Piero de’ Medici (Paris, BnF, nouv.acq.lat.584; Florence, Bibl. Medicea Laurenziana, Plut.53.2; DLM 56, 58), Platina’s Vitae pontificum for Pope Sixtus IV (Vat.lat. 2044; DLM 59), the Durazzo Martial, and the Vatican Homer, all produced in the 1470s; the exquisite Eusebius for Bernardo Bembo (London, BL, Royal MS. 14.C.III; DLM 87) and the Book of Hours in Ravenna (Bibl. Classense, Cod.4; DLM 93) of the late 1480s and/or early 1490s.

All these manuscripts show Gaspare’s taste for enlivening his all’antica imagery, often modelled on Mantegna’s inventions, with fanciful elements, such as the playful putti busying themselves in the margins and bas-de-page of the incipits of the Office of the Virgin and the Psalms in the present manuscript.

Here Gaspare begins to use a pointillism technique, softening Mantegna’s rigorous antiquarianism with the delicate naturalism of Giovanni Bellini and the translucent light of Perugino, as in the portrait of the young lady in the faceted initial of the Office of the Dead (f. 157r). The portrait of Cyprian in the manuscript for the Cardinal of Aragon of 1483-4 is painted with the same technique; Gaspare would fully master the technique only later, in the Nativity of the Bembo Eusebius, datable to 1487-8. A date in the early 1480s, nearer to the Cyprian, is therefore suggested for the present manuscript.


In Renaissance Italy, Books of Hours were donated to couples engaged to be married not only by family members, but also by friends, economic associates or political allies.

Unlike the recipients of the manuscript, made manifest by the impaled arms of Sforza and Aragon, the identity of the patron and donor of the Offiziolo was cleverly disguised by Gaspare in the bas-de-page decoration of the Office of the Virgin (f. 13). A small banner, inconspicuously painted in the background and bearing the Orsini arms, provides the vital clue and justifies the otherwise puzzling presence of the two bears (the Orsini emblem).

The Medici’s diamond ring and plumes disguised in the decoration of a Book of Hours for the wedding of Lapo di Lorenzo Niccolini and Lucrezia di Benedetto di Tanai de’ Nerli in 1493, similarly reveal a gift from Lorenzo de’ Medici’s (BL, Additional MS. 19417; Regnicoli, 2011, pp. 43-4, n. 79).

The discovery of Orsini’s arms in the Offiziolo refutes the past supposition of a patronage from Ippolita Sforza, Isabella’s mother.

We propose the identification of Gentil Virginio Orsini (1445-1497) as the patron who commissioned the manuscript, on the basis of evidence supplied by the manuscript and by historical facts. It is, however, a hypothetical guess and should be taken as such.

The parchment quires are ruled in brown ink with a rake, rather than blind with a strung board, a very rare feature in Sanvito manuscripts. Coloured ink ruling is recorded in three other Sanvito manuscripts only, his first two codices of the early 1450s (Tibullus and Pseudo-Ovidius, Oxford, Bodleian Library, D'Orville MS. 166; Virgil, London, BL, Harley MS. 5268; DLM 1 and 2) and the Book of Hours for Isabella d'Este, seemingly written by him on the move in the late 1480s and early 1490s (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS. Typ.213; DLM 85; Nuvoloni, «Hours of Isabelle d’Este Gonzaga»). In addition, the calendar is not Venetian and Franciscan as usual: its sparse contents are mostly limited to major festivities of the Roman calendar (with the exception of a few unusual entries: Euphemie virginis, 8 February; Martialis martiris, 4 March; Innocentii confessoris, 14 March; Gabrieli archangeli, 18 March), whereas Milanese and Neapolitan patrons are ignored. These two elements suggest that Sanvito produced the manuscript while away from Rome or Padua, on parchment quires bought from a foreign stationer and using an unfamiliar exemplar for the text.

Gentil Virginio was a condottiero and a supporter of the King of Naples. He was a commander in attendance to Alfonso, duke of Calabria, at the time of the war between Ferrara and Venice (1482-84). Between November and December 1482, Pope Sixtus IV (r. 1471-1484), until then a strong ally of Venice, negotiated a truce with Naples, Milan and Florence, signing a peace treaty on 12 December. As part of the negotiations, Orsini and his son Gian Giordano were requested to serve both the King of Naples and the Pope, the Pope returned two feuds to Gentil Virginio, and, crucially, Maria of Aragon - Ferrante’s natural daughter and therefore Alfonso’s half-sister - was promised in marriage to Gian Giordano. The duke of Calabria and Orsini travelled to Ferrara in January 1483, where Alfonso met with Cardinal Gonzaga, also recently arrived in town as the new papal military legate. From there they travelled together to participate in the Diet of Cremona (26-27 February).

Is it conceivable that Sanvito, the cardinal’s steward, was also in Ferrara. It is also conceivable that Orsini, for whom Sanvito had already produced a copy of Platina, De vera nobilitate, about 1473 (Toledo, Archivio y Bibl. Capitulares, MS. 103-10; DLM 55), commissioned this Offiziolo to the scribe as a diplomatic gift to Alfonso in confirmation of his allegiance. The manuscript would have taken no more than two weeks to write and it could easily have been dispatched to Gaspare in Rome for decoration afterwards.

A date in early 1483 would tally perfectly with the dating of the manuscript proposed above on the basis of the style of Sanvito’s hand and Gaspare’s illumination.

One last observation: the wreaths of oak leaves - Sixtus IV’s emblem found in manuscripts produced for him by Sanvito and Gaspare - adorning the palm trees in the opening of the Vespers (f. 74), may symbolize the papal blessing to the union between the Houses of Aragon and Sforza. At the death of Sixtus IV in 1484, this blessing would have lost its significance.

A gift from Orsini to Alfonso and therefore to Isabella, rather than to Gian Galeazzo or the married couple, would explain why the book did not follow the destiny of the Sforza library at the castle of Pavia, where they were forced to reside by Ludovico Sforza (Pellegrin; Albertini Ottolenghi).

Gian Galeazzo died (by poison?) in 1494 and Isabella went back to Naples in 1499, after Ludovico il Moro had sent her son Francesco to France (where he would die in 1512). Given the Duchy of Bari by King Frederick of Naples in 1500, Isabella moved to Puglia and proved herself to be an enlightened ruler until she returned to Naples to die in 1524. This manuscript is not mentioned, however, in De Marinis’s work on the Aragon library at Naples.

Dott. Laura NUVOLONI 

BIBLIOGRAPHY for the present manuscript

Entries in DBI for major historical figures.

A.C. de la Mare, «The Florentine Scribes of Cardinal Giovanni of Aragon», in Il libro e il testo: Atti del Convegno internazionale, Urbino 1982, eds C. Questa and R. Raffaelli, Urbino, 1984, 245-93 (p. 288, no. 20) – G. Toscano, «La collezione di Ippolita Sforza e la Biblioteca di Alfonso, duca di Calabria» and «Gaspare da Padova», in La Biblioteca Reale di Napoli al tempo della dinastia aragonese / La Biblioteca Real de Nápoles en tiempos de la dinastía Aragonesa, ed. G. Toscano, Valencia, 1998, pp. 251-67, 454-64 (p. 255, 463) – G. Toscano, 'Gaspare da Padova e la diffusione della miniatura "all'antica" tra Roma e Napoli', in Parole dipinte. La miniatura a Padova dal Medioevo al Settecento, ed. G. Mariani Canova, Modena, 1999, pp. 523-31 (p. 529 and n. 55) – A. C. de la Mare, Laura Nuvoloni, Bartolomeo Sanvito, the life and work of the Renaissance scribe, Paris, AIB, 2009 [abbreviated as DLM],pp. 34-5 and 298-9 n° 89 – Beatrice Bentivoglio-Ravasio, « Gaspare da Padova » et « Bartolomeo Sanvito » in Dizionario biografico dei miniatori italiani : secoli IX-XVI, ed. M. Bollati, Milan, 2004, pp. 251-8, 928-36.


E. Pellegrin, La bibliothèque des Visconti et des Sforza ducs de Milan au XVe siècle, Paris, 1955 – J. Wardrop, The Script of Humanism, Oxford, 1963 – T. De Marinis, La biblioteca napoletana dei re d’Aragona, 4 vols, Milan, 1947-52, vol. II, 196, pp. 161, 166; vol. IV, 1952, pls 240, 247A – Maria Grazia Albertini Ottolenghi, « La biblioteca dei Visconti e degli Sforza: gli inventari del 1488 e del 1490 », Studi petrarcheschi, VIII (1991), pp. 1-238 (« librorum sacre scripturae », pp. 174-96) – L. Armstrong, «Opus Petri: Renaissance Miniatures from Venice and Rome», Viator - Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 21 (1990), 385-412 – D. S. Chambers, A Renaissance Cardinal and his Wordly Goods: the Will and Inventory of Francesco Gonzaga (1444-1483), London, 1992 – G. Toscano, «Bartolomeo Sanvito e Gaspare da Padova, familiares et continuii commensales di Francesco Gonzaga», in Andrea Mantegna e i Gonzaga. Rinascimento nel Castello di San Giorgio, ed. F. Trevisani, Milan, 2006, pp. 103-11 – S. Dickerson, «[Sanvito] Chronology», in DLM, pp. 39-62 – A. Iacobini and G. Toscano, «More graeco, more latino. Gaspare da Padova e la miniatura all’antica», in Mantegna e Roma. L’artista davanti all’antico, eds T. Calvano, C. Cieri Via et L. Ventura, Rome, 2010, I, pp. 131-58 – G. Toscano, «Gaspare da Padova e la diffusione del linguaggio mantegnesco tra Roma e Napoli», in Andrea Mantegna, Impronta del genio, eds R. Signorini, V. Rebonato et S. Tammaccaro, Florence, 2010, pp. 363-96 – D. Guernelli, «Su un Libro d’Ore di Bartolomeo Sanvito», in L’Archiginnasio: Bollettino della Biblioteca comunale di Bologna, 103, 2008 [2011], pp. 353-93 – L. Nuvoloni, «Bartolomeo Sanvito and Tilly de la Mare», in Palaeography, Humanism and Manuscript Illumination: Essays in Memory of Albinia C. de la Mare, eds R. Black, J. Kraye and L. Nuvoloni, London, 2016, pp. 251-78, 432 (pl.) – C. Dondi, Printed Books of Hours from Fifteenth-Century Italy, Florence, 2016 – L. Nuvoloni, «Hours of Isabelle d’Este Gonzaga, marchioness of Mantua. Bartolomeo Sanvito (scribe)», and W. P. Stoneman, L. Nuvoloni and P. Kidd, «Leaf from a prayer book or book of hours. Bartolomeo Sanvito (scribe)», in Beyond Words : Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston collections, eds J. F. Hamburger ... [et al.], Boston [but Chestnut Hill, Mass.], 2016, pp. 271-3, nos 232-3.

Entries in Dizionario Biografico degli ItalianiDBI for major historical figures.


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