THE FLORENTINE PRODUCTION
A rather large group of manuscripts was produced in the Florentine workshop of Vespasiano da Bisticci. The decorative apparatuses therefore show characteristics which historiography for many decades has considered to be connected to that large production center. At the beginning of the manuscript is the figurative diptych of the antiporta/incipit page, inside, an apparatus of different types of initials indicating the most important divisions of text (Urb. lat. 9, Urb. lat. 52, Urb. lat. 74, Urb. lat. 136, Urb. lat. 185, Urb. lat. 491).
In such richly decorated pages—the gold leaf of different textures is a fundamental motif—it is here, then, that we have the work of the greatest illuminators of the time, all in the service of Vespasiano and often working together on the same manuscript. Here we may observe flowery friezes and bunches of fruit, brightly decorated with playful putti and animals, sometimes combined with intense portraits of the strong physiognomic qualities of Francesco di Antonio del Chierico or of his workshop (Urb. lat. 1-2).
Urb. lat. 1, ff. 2r and 4v
Francesco Rosselli adopted the sumptuousness of the goldsmith’s language (Urb. lat. 1-2, Urb. lat. 74, Urb. lat. 136, Urb. lat. 491), and used parchment as if it were precious metal, chiseling it with colors and metal sheets.
Urb. lat. 74, f. 1r - Urb. lat. 136, f. 2r
The illustrations exude a sharpness and the expressive clarity of a long line of artists that still remain anonymous today; they include for example Maestro del Salterio di Federico da Montefeltro and the Maestro del San Giovanni Crisostomo Vaticano. Nevertheless, like well-known figures, they formed the framework of production for the cartolaio workshop in Florence (Urb. lat. 9, Urb. lat. 52, Urb. lat. 185).
Urb. lat. 52, f. 1v - Urb. lat. 185, f. 7r
In addition to this production made specifically for the library of the lord of Urbino, we find another that follows a different path. There is a small group of manuscripts that also comes from Vespasiano’s workshop, but that predates the commission of Federico (or of the person representing him in the task of book acquisitions). They are in fact complete manuscripts, but still remain without an owner: for example, Urb. lat. 250 and 1324. These show the characteristics of a standardized production, by including bianchi girari, and with a space reserved for the emblem which still appears blank in the absence of a buyer. In these two cases, as well as in the Urb. lat. 350, which, however, has an even more complex history, the seal of the sale was made by with the heraldic shields of Federico, confined to a space that was evidently too small to contain them with the required size.
Urb. lat. 250, f. 2r - Urb. lat. 1324, f. 2r
Lastly, a partially different but very intriguing case is that of Urb. lat. 187: this is an assembly of files “in stock” at the workshop of Vespasiano, which were bound and integrated with others at a request from Urbino, in order to offer a finished and complete manuscript in all its parts.
As we said at the beginning, the rarification of the Florentine presence in the collection of Federico da Montefeltro, in contrast to that of Padua and Ferrara, is usually attributed to the Pazzi conspiracy (1478), even if hypothetically. Yet precisely in conjunction with those events, Vespasiano da Bisticci organized the spectacular feat of the Bible in two volumes (Urb. lat. 1-2). By committing great strengths of human and material resources, his workshop was entirely involved in the endeavor, including almost all the most important artists of Tuscany, illuminators and painters alike (see in this regard the letter, dated 1478 June 21, that Federico sends to Lorenzo de' Medici, in which he thanks him for facilitating the work of the Florentine cartolaio for the creation of the second volume of the Bible, in Franceschini, Figure del Rinascimento, p. 142).
The Florentine cartolaio does not recede, however, from the scene of Federico, since in 1481 is signed Urb. lat. 328, a manuscript created by the Maestro del Salterio di Federico (or workshop), one of its most prolific illuminators, as has already been said.