The Library of a 'Humanist Prince' Federico da Montefeltro and His Manuscripts [by M.G. Critelli]

Giovanni di Bartolo Bettini da Fano

f. 1450-1470

An artist with a complex critical following, he moved between Fano and Rimini, always within the entourage of the Malatesta family, acquiring the status of court illuminator. His activity is documented above all by the two signed copies of the Hesperis (Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, ms. 630 and Vatican City, Vatican Library, ms. Vat. lat. 6043), a poem concerning the undertakings of Sigismondo Malatesta in the war for the Florentines between 1448 and 1453; a third manuscript of the same, with a larger decorative apparatus, is preserved at Oxford, Bodleian Library, Canon. Class. Lat. 81. Although not exceptional in quality, and probably not to be assigned to the artist in their entirety, the watercolors in the volumes are a critical testimony of the “technical, scientific, and pagan spirit of the Romagna Renaissance” (original text: Nicolini, Giovanni di Bartolo, p. 286). These manuscripts also show some of the recurring peculiarities of Giovanni Bettini’s art: the frequent references to the classical with an updated view on the reflections of Leon Battista Alberti and Paolo Uccello; the attention to the “topographic descriptions proper to geographical and technical illustration” (original text: Nicolini, Giovanni di Bartolo, p. 286); the “interest in atmospheric effects” that recall the miniatures of Northern Europe (original text: Nicolini, Giovanni di Bartolo, p. 286); the accuracy in the naturalistic rendering of the environment, but also in the fashions of the time and objects in use. All elements also found in the copies of the De re militari by Roberto Valturio (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, lat. 7236; Modena, Biblioteca Estense, lat. 447; the following manuscripts are ascribable to his area of influence: Venice, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, lat. VIII, 29 e Milano, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, F. 150 sup.). The Vatican copy of the work, Urb. lat. 281, was also made for the court of Malatesta and was later incorporated in the Federico da Montefeltro collection.

NICOLINI, Giovanni di Bartolo, pp. 285-288; ANDRIOLO, Scheda nr. 10, pp. 180-182.