SCRIBES AT COURT
While the role of Vespasiano da Bisticci in the formation of Federico’s library is attested by the direct testimony of the cartolaio, as well as by some letters of Federico to Lorenzo de’ Medici (see Franceschini, Figure del Rinascimento, pp. 139-142), the activities of scribes and illuminators at the court of Urbino is not equally documented.
Some information is offered in the «Memoria felicissima de lo illustrissimo Signor Duca Federico Duca de Urbino et de la sua fameglia che teneva. Opera de Susech antiquo cortegiano» (Urb. lat. 1204, ff. 97v-111r), written after 1474. The author undersigns identifying himself as «Susech de Castel Durante, antiquo cortegiano qual prima fu paggio et poi camoriero del signor Octaviano» (f. 103r). The Memoria contains lists of people who worked in service of Federico’s Court, and was written by two different hands and probably in different eras (see Zannoni, I due libri, pp. 650-671, with an edition of the text on pp. 666-671; Michelini Tocci, I due manoscritti, p. 217 nt. 1; Peruzzi, Lavorare a corte, pp. 225-296, in particular p. 241 nt. 51). The Memoria contains the names of some «scrittori de libri della libraria: D[…] Lancilago, ser Mattheo da Volterra, ser Federigo Vagnino, magistro Nicola da Genova e molti altri scritori di fuora» (f. 110v). The only one of these who is known is Matteo Contugi. On the other hand, it is surprising not to find a well-known scribe such as Federico Veterani on the list, who appears alone among readers at Federico’s table, or among «li deputati a leggere fin ch’il signore mangiava» (f. 108v).
Urb. lat. 1204, ff. 108v, 110v
In fact, of the scribes who were active at the court of Urbino, there is only sufficient information to reconstruct a profile for these two figures. Both are important personalities, although very different from each other.
Federico Veterani is from Urbino and seems to have spent his whole life in his city, devoted to his lord and his active employee at least since 1471 (see Urb. lat. 419, 420, 651), when he was still a teenager. After the death of the duke, he continued to work as a librarian for the collection he had helped to establish, both by writing notes or nostalgic verses of the past to the manuscripts that he himself copied years before.
Urb. lat. 651, f. 3r
Matteo Contugi is from Volterra; he traveled to the most important Italian noble courts before arriving to Urbino. He copies only a few manuscripts for Federico, but these are extremely refined and illuminated by famous artists such as Guglielmo Giraldi, Franco dei Russi, Alessandro Leoni (see Urb. lat. 10, 151, 365) . Even if less known or even anonymous, they were elegant to such a degree as to gain notoriety, becoming identifiable by a name that links them directly to the manuscript that they decorated, as in the case of the Maestro del Curzio Rufo (Urb. lat. 427, for which Bartolomeo della Gatta also collaborated); Giovanni Corenti, known only for having undersigned Urb. lat. 326 copied by Veterani, is known for having done the decoration of the Urb. lat. 324. It is also possible that Contugi had an administrative and directive role among the various persons involved in the making of the manuscripts as well.
Urb. lat. 427, f. 2r
Veterani copies many manuscripts: he himself affirms that he produced more than 60 (Urb. lat. 351, f. CCCLXXXIIr), but, despite his composed and fluid writing, he cannot match the elegance of Contugi’s hand (for an analysis of his writing, see Critelli, Per la carriera di Matteo Contugi, pp. 278-284). The decorative apparatus of his manuscripts is attributable to artists of the Urbino scriptorium, either anonymous (Urb. lat. 1221) or attributable to people whose name is the only piece of information known or for whom little is known, as in the case of Giovanni Corenti (Urb. lat. 326) or Ercole Giraldi (Urb. lat. 349); his activity as an illuminator suggested on the basis of some of his notes remains debatable (see Urb. lat. 419, 420, 651).
For both scribes, the colophons they undersigned are an important source of information. Contugi offers little material of notice, relating to his city of origin and his father’s name; without his colophons, however, this information would otherwise not be known. His cousin was Francesco Contugi (d. 1495), the notary of Volterra, who was also a scribe of manuscripts and who wrote in elegant humanistic bookhand, some of which belonged to Federico da Montefeltro (Urb. lat. 442 presents the signum tabellionis following his signature; the signum alone is present in Urb. lat. 45 on f. 203r, Urb. lat. 391 on f. 49r, Urb. lat. 462, Urb. lat. 670 on f. 122r, Urb. lat. 890 on f. 87r, Urb. lat. 1342 on f. 43v, Urb. lat. 1345 on f. 52v). It is not known when Matteo was born, nor where he or Francesco received their training.
In addition to his place of birth, Veterani provides information about his own activity, not so much in the undersignings stricto sensu, but in the annotations that he often adds below the colophons, even after some time had passed. According to the manuscripts, his activity as a copyist for Federico should therefore be dated between 1471 and 1482, from the time that he was still a teenager to the year of Federico’s death.
In particular, in one of the manuscripts he undersigned, in a note following the colophon added after Federico’s death, the place of the copy is also indicated: Gubbio («Scriptum Eugubii, in eius magnificentissima curia [...]», Urb. lat. 419, f. 161r). The statement is interesting and deserves further investigation because Gubbio is the birthplace of Federico and his son Guidubaldo. It is also the see of the ducal palace built by the architect Francesco di Giorgio Martini, where, like in Urbino, there is a famous Studiolo. It is certainly the second most important city of the duchy, but there are no testimonies relating to a book collection preserved therein or to a structured copying activity (see Clough, Lo Studiolo di Gubbio, pp. 287-300; Lo studiolo di Federico da Montefeltro).