Latin Classics The Evolution and Transmission of Texts of Specific Works [by M. Buonocore]

Cicero, Marcus Tullius, 106-43 a.C.

A large quantity of illuminated manuscripts of Cicero’s works were preserved throughout the Middle Ages, but one can note a strong increase in production in the humanistic era, when Cicero constituted an essential point of reference within the phenomenon of rediscovery of the classical authors. In fact, we may count numerous examples of manuscripts intended for study that were manufactured modestly, and in which the illustrative apparatus is limited to decorations of the first initials with an ornamentation that was rather standard for de luxe codices intended for a high-ranking patrons (Vedere i classici, p. 14). Most of the time, the illuminated manuscripts that contain the texts of Cicero show the portrait of the author, depicted in medieval sources as an orator in the act of docere, or more simply they are enriched by ornamentations that have nothing to do with the content of the works. Concerning the early medieval period, the manuscript produced at Corbie in the ninth century (Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, S. Marco 257) is of great interest because it is one of the first examples of a decorative project exclusively of ornamental character, unrelated to the text. This will also continue later, albeit in a different style, during the fifteenth century in Italy.

A manuscript from the Roman era, Ott. lat. 1190, made in northern Italy between the end of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth century, contains rhetorical texts (De inventione, Rethorica ad Herennium). It displays a full-page allegorical image of Orpheus, related to the art of rhetoric, and is entirely unique in its kind. The same codex depicts Cicero in the act of receiving a precious book from a personification of Rhetoric (Vedere i classici, pp. 57; Santini, Scheda nr. 28, pp. 224-225). We then move on to important models made at the end of the fourteenth century (ms. Pal. lat. 1523) and codices produced during the fifteenth century that present images inspired by university teaching, with the teacher on the chair and the group of students listening, or with the image of Cicero in the act of writing. This group includes a highly appealing image made by the Lombard artist, Belbello da Pavia, which depicts Cicero as he writes and Cotta, Scaevola, Crassus, Antonius, Sulpicius dressed according to the fashion of the era when the codex was made in Pavia between 1422-1425 (ms. Ott. lat. 2057) (Cadei, Studi di miniatura, pp. 30-39).

There are also many examples of Ciceronian codices from the humanistic era, made in Tuscany, which present only ornamental apparatuses unrelated to the text, often consisting of initials and friezes of bianchi girari. In this group, at most only one image dedicated to teaching is found at the beginning of the codex, as is the case of ms. Vat. lat. 1742 which contains the Orations, in which the master of rhetoric is depicted on the chair and below twelve students intent on listening (Buonocore, Scheda nr. 98, pp. 383-384; Illuminations in the Robert, p. 142). The illustrative tradition of the Ciceronian codices is therefore rather heterogeneous but was characterized by the depiction of Cicero from the beginning: he was very often depicted as magister, and not, as happens more commonly for other classical authors, represented with a generic portrait of the author with a codex in hand.