Subject organisation: authors and works
In the Vite, Vespasiano da Bisticci tells of having visited the library in Urbino in 1482, shortly before the death of the duke (10 September 1482), when the construction of the library was completed. The enthusiasm of his report is not only because of the material preciousness of the volumes, but also inspired by their content and to the completeness of the collection due to the breadth of the facultates (subjects) represented.
A short time before the Duke went to Ferrara it chanced that I was in Urbino with His Lordship, and I had with me the catalogues of the principal Italian libraries: of the papal library of those of S. Marco at Florence, of Pavia, and even of that of the University of Oxford, which I had procured from England. On comparing them with that of the Duke I remarked how they all failed in one respect; to wit, they possessed the same work in many examples, but lacked the other writings of the author; nor had they writers in all the faculties like this library (Vespasiano, Lives, pp. 104-105).
There is also a feature that, in his opinion, makes the collection from Urbino unique: the works of each author were not only complete, but also without duplicates, unlike other collections where it was easy to find both gaps and different copies of the same works (for comparisons with other libraries of the time, such as that of San Marco in Florence and the Vaticana of Niccolò V see Manfredi, Che lettere!, pp. 31-60). Even if indeed the collection is not entirely without duplicates, the organic nature is certainly a fundamental characteristic and its integrity was sought in an organized way through the preparation of great sylloges of works.
Even the precise choices as to content give the collection extraordinary cultural importance. In the Vite there is a summary review, divided by subject, and by authors within the subjects. This arrangement generally corresponds to the Indice vecchio (Urb. lat. 1761, ff. 1r-126r), a topographical inventory redacted shortly after Federico’s death.
Urb. lat. 1761, f. 1r
The organization is derived from the bibliographic Canone created by the humanist Tommaso Parentucelli di Sarzana, future pope Niccolò V, for Cosimo dei Medici, who intended to use it for the library of the Dominican convent of St. Mark in Florence (the manuscript by which it was handed down already belonged to the convent library, and is now kept in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze under the shelfmark Conv. Above J VII 30 (411), ff. 180r-185v. For information on the manuscript see M.G. Blasio, C. Lelj, G. Roselli, Un contributo alla lettura del canone bibliografico di Tommaso Parentucelli, pp. 125-165; A. de La Mare, New Research, pp. 440-444; Vasoli, La biblioteca progettata da un papa, p. 219-239; Manfredi, Che lettere!, pp. 45-56, in particular pp. 49-50).
Its use in Urbino is openly acknowledged by Vespasiano, and perhaps originated precisely through his mediation. In the Vita dedicated to the pontiff, Vespasiano declares openly that this canon was also taken as a model in Urbino:
There was no Latin or Greek writers in any of the faculties with whom he [Tommaso Parentucelli] was not acquainted; and so to the arranging of a library there was no one to equal him, and for this reason Cosimo dei Medici, when he was about to set in order the library of S. Marco, wrote to Maestro Tomaso begging him to send direction as to how a library should be formed. And who is there who has not gone through this trouble before bringing some such a scheme into working order? Maestro Tomaso wrote the instructions with his own hand, and sent them to Cosimo; moreover, he did the same with the libraries of Santo Marco, of the Badia of Fiesole, of the Duke of Urbino and of Signor Alessandro Sforza (Vespasiano, Lives, p. 38).
The Indice vecchio allows us to know and follow the order in which the approximately 900 manuscripts were placed on the “shelves” of the library. The collection opens with the large Latin section (Urb. lat. 1761, ff. 1r-88r), subdivided into the sacred library (ff. 1r-30v [nrr. 1-204: cfr. Stornajolo, Cod. Urb. Graeci, pp. LIX-LXXVIII]) e biblioteca profana (ff. 31r-87v [nrr. 205-656: ibidem, pp. LXXVIII-CXXXIX]), according to the approach offered by the Canone of Parentucelli (cfr. Manfredi, Che lettere!, pp. 46, 49-50).
Urb. lat. 52, f. 1v - Urb. lat. 10, f. 175r
The Fathers of the Church follow the sacred texts [see Urb. lat. 1-2, 9, 10] in chronological order (first the Latin ones [see Urb. lat. 52, with works by Jerome], then the Greek ones in Latin translation) and then come the theological works, scholastics and modern authors. Augustine [see Urb. lat. 74] and Thomas [see Urb. lat. 136] are the most well-represented authors and together the two sections–patristic and theological–constitute about a third of the Latin collection. There are many miscellaneous volumes, most of which come from Florence, produced for the most part after 1474 or around that date.
Worthy of mention is the de luxe Urb. lat. 151, which was actually produced in Urbino and contains three works by Francesco della Rovere, the future pontiff by the name of Sixtus IV, who would grant Federico the ducal title, and who is one of the few contemporary figures to be represented among the illustrious men of the Studiolo (see Fenucci-Simonetta, The Studiolo in the “Cube”, pp. 88-99 e fig. 68).
From the point of view of consistency, the profane section is clearly prevalent and in accordance with the Canon. This section begins with Aristotelian philosophy: Aristotle and commentaries on Aristotle follow in old and new translations [see Urb. lat. 1324, which contains the Ethica Nicomachea translated by Giovanni Argiropulo], Plato [see Urb. lat. 185, with the Dialogues translated by Marsilio Ficino] and the Latin Avicenna [see Urb. lat. 187].
The following sections then follow in the Indice vecchio: “Medici, Juristae, Cosmographi Historici Poetae Grammatici et reliqua” (Urb. lat. 1761, f. 52r); but it is also possible to identify a series of technical/scientific treatises relating to astrology, mathematics, architecture, military art, which were highly characteristic of Federico’s collection, since it intended to offer the image of himself as the skilled captain, who was at the same time also a patron of the arts.
Military treaties are particularly characteristic of his interests. In this category, the following manuscripts may be recalled: Urb. lat. 1221, made in Urbino before 1474, which contains classical texts on the art of war (Frontinus and Vegetius), and Urb. lat. 281, the oldest witness of De re militari by Roberto Valturio, which constitutes an anthology of information on the art of war in the classical age and on the requirements of the perfect captain, and was made in 1462 for Jacopo degli Anastagi di Borgo San Sepolcro. In fact, there are several manuscripts in these sections which were not directly commissioned, but formerly belonged to other owners, such as the manuscript with Galen, Urb. lat. 248. In this group, we also recall De architectura by Leon Battista Alberti (Urb. lat. 264).
Urb. lat. 1221, f. 2r - Urb. lat. 281, ff. 147v-148r
In general, pagan Classics - including translations from the Greek - were among the first to be commissioned in Florence, predominantly before 1474 and characterized by the typical bianchi girari, such as Urb. lat. 350 (the Virgil then enhanced in Urbino during the ducal age from a tabular miniature made by Guglielmo Giraldi). Even in Urbino, however, there were manuscripts made containing classical texts, such as Terence of Urb. lat. 651 and Homer translated by Lorenzo Valla in Urb. lat. 349, both written by Federico Veterani in 1471 and 1480, respectively.
Urb. lat. 350, f. 2v14v - Urb. lat. 651, f. 3r
In the field of classical works, there is a significant presence of historical texts, both original and translated from the Greek. In these works, the protagonists were meant to be models of an active life and moral principles through their own accomplishments. Likewise, the political teachings presented in philosophical writings were intended to be used for the practice of good governance. For this category, there were also several manuscripts made in Urbino, such as the Ciropedia of Xenophon in Urb. lat. 410 or the de luxe Curtius Rufus written by the distinguished Matteo Contugi (Urb. lat. 427); a number of manuscripts were copied by Federico Veterani, who, in addition to the famous volumes of Livy (Urb. lat. 423, 424, 425), also wrote Appian (Urb. lat. 419 and 420), which he states, in a note on f. 161r of the Urb. lat. 419, was the first manuscript that he made (although he claimed the same priority in a note attached to the Terence of Urb. lat. 651, f. 136v, likewise dated to 1471).
As for rhetorical works, Cicero is widely represented (see Urb. lat. 328), while the production of volumes of texts related to the court is from Urbino, such as Antonio Campano (see Urb. lat. 324, 326; one was copied by Contugi’s hand, the other by that of Veterani, and both were illuminated by Giovanni Corenti). Campano had pronounced the funeral oration for the death of Battista di Sforza, the young consort of Federico who died prematurely. Finally, the last part of the inventory mentions a group of miscellaneous works.
The Canone is certainly a model for the library of Federico, but, with respect to the latter there are also considerable innovations, linked to the specific typology of the Urbino library as an aristocratic collection. In addition to the attention given to the external aspect of the manuscript, its openness to contemporary texts distinguishes it. These are given an important place alongside the Classics that certainly remain predominant (see see Manuscrits classiques II.2, Riou, Fonds Urbinate, pp. 518-521; Peruzzi, Cultura potere immagine, pp. 44-50; Ead., «Lectissima politissimaque volumina», pp. 338-354, con bibliografia precedente). Thus ancient and modern authors found themselves placed side by side in a new equilibrium (see Indice Vecchio).
The presence of Latin humanists and vernacular works is significant. First of all, the Commedia (Urb. lat. 365), in the sumptuous manuscript copied in Urbino by Matteo Contugi and illuminated by Gugliemo Giraldi, at least partially in Ferrara. The work on this manuscript was then interrupted and not finished at the time of drafting the Indice vecchio, which includes it among the volumes still to be bound (Urb. lat. 1761, f. 118r). Dante and Petrarch (Urb. lat. 681) therefore find a place close to the great poets of antiquity, the Greek Homer (Urb. gr. 136) and the Latin one (Urb. lat. 349, in the translation of Valla) and Virgil (Urb. lat. 350). Alongside the rhetoricians par excellence, Demosthenes (Urb. lat. 337, in the translation of Valla) and Cicero (Urb. lat. 328) appear, for example, and the orations of Giovanni Antonio Campano (Urb. lat. 324).
Urb. lat. 365, f. 6v - Urb. lat. 681, f. 163v
Urb. gr. 136, f. 1r - Urb. lat. 349, f. 2r
If among the historical works the History of Rome by Titus Livy (Urb. lat. 423, 424, 425, 426) cannot be lacking, the collection also includes the Historiae Florentinae by Poggio Bracciolini (Urb. lat. 491); in the same way we have De gestis Alexandri magni by Curtius Rufus (Urb. lat. 427) and Vita et res gestae Bracii Fortebracci, the lord of Perugia and mercenary captain, Braccio Fortebracci di Montone, by Campano himself (Urb. lat. 326). The Latin section also had Greek authors in translation, such as Xenophon and Appian translated by Francesco Filelfo and Pier Candido Decembrio (Urb. lat. 410, 419 and 420).
Urb. lat. 427, f. 2r - Urb. lat. 324, f. 1r
In addition to the presence of several manuscripts containing compositions dedicated to the lord of Urbino on various occasions (such as Urb. lat. 373 or Urb. lat. 1193), in other cases Federico himself becomes a character in the texts within the manuscripts, such as in Urb. lat. 899, which contains the Nozze di Costanzo Sforza e Camilla Marzano d’Aragona, celebrated in 1475; the manuscript could have become part of the collection as a gift from the couple.
The Greek section is of a smaller dimension than the Latin one: it consists of 168 manuscripts (Urb. lat. 1761, ff. 88v-100r), 38 of which are preserved not in the main hall, but separately in an armoire (“Libri Graeci In armario”: Urb. lat. 1761, ff. 121v-123v). The ordering is the same, but the series of sacred volumes is very small: the Holy Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church represent one tenth of the collection, while the pagan Classics, in particular historians, orators, philosophers and technical literature, constitute the focal point (see Bravi, I manoscritti greci, pp. 41-45; D’Aiuto, Urbinati greci, pp. 549-550; Peruzzi, “Lectissima politissimaque volumina”, p. 351).
The manuscripts that were directly commissioned by Federico are proportionally fewer in number than that of the Latin section (Urb. gr. 136); many of them are by the hand of the scribe Giovanni Scutariota, active in the Florentine area (see, for example, the trilingual Psalter, Urb. lat. 9). A high number of volumes consists of antiquarian purchases - some of considerable value (Urb. gr. 2, 12th century) - or of manuscripts from other collections (such as that of the Florentine humanist Palla Strozzi, or of the Rimini humanist, Angelo Vadio), dating back to the 9th and 15th centuries.
The Jewish section consists of 82 manuscripts (Urb. lat. 1761, ff. 101r-107r: Hebraei; at number 83 there is a Evangelium Sirorum lingua et characteribus eorum). It has traditionally been thought that these arrived in Urbino following the conquest of Volterra. They would have been obtained by Federico as spoils of war after the conquest of the city in 1472, but it was more recently argued that many manuscripts belonged to the library of Menahem ben Aaron of Volterra, identified with the banker Emanuele da Volterra. The library was put up for sale in the years shortly after his death, which occurred between 1466 and 1467, and it is therefore possible that they were acquired (see Proverbio, Notes on the Diaspora, pp. 51-60; Bianchi, I manoscritti ebraici, pp. 47-51; Proverbio, Urbinati ebraici, pp. 545-549; Peruzzi, «Lectissima politissimaque volumina», pp. 351-352). In addition to the manuscripts belonging to this section, we also recall the splendid trilingual Psalter, in Latin, Greek and Hebrew (Urb. lat. 9), illuminated by an anonymous artist to whom the name, Maestro del Salterio di Federico da Montefeltro is attributed, precisely for having embellished this manuscript.
Despite its quadrilingual quality (Latin, the vernacular, Greek and Hebrew), the collection is actually mainly characterized by the Latin works. In general, attention to the external appearance of the manuscripts does not correspond to an interest in the text, often incorrect (with few annotations), apograph of recentiores manuscripts (many antigraphs were from S. Marco, copied by authorization of Lorenzo de’ Medici, as shown by some letters exchanged between Federico and the lord of Florence, see Franceschini, Figure, pp. 139-142; for the relationship between copy and antigraph see Manfredi, Che lettere!, pp. 50-56); manuscripts from Federico’s library thus do not have a high textual value.
The arrangement of the volumes and their relative classification was also summarized in some verses, three couplets, located on the walls of the hall of the Ducal Palace that housed the library (published by Guasti, Inventario della Libreria Urbinate, VI, pp. 133-134, and attributed to Federico Veterani by him, see also Michelini Tocci, Agapito, bibliotecario, pp. 256-257):
Si cupis hic positi quonam sint ordine libri / Discere, qui transis, carmina pauca lege./ Dextera Sacrorum, Iurisque volumina servat, / Philosophos, Physicos, nec Geometer abest. / Quicquid Cosmographi, quicquid scripsere Poetae / Historicique omnes dat tibi laeva manus.