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

Plautus, Titus Maccius, m. 184 a.C.

Plautus’s comedies did not enjoy the same illustrative success as the works of Terence, and until 1429, the year of the discovery of ms. Vat. lat. 3870 by Card. Giordano Orsini, the known comedies were only eight (Fachechi, I classici illustrati). The manuscript Vat. lat. 3870, copied in the German region in the tenth century and arriving in Italy in the fifteenth century, were very important from the philological point of view and for the critical story of the works of Plautus. This does not, however, shed light on the complexity of the figurative history of comedies in the Middle Ages, since it was decorated only when the volume was donated to Pope Leo X in the sixteenth century.

The illuminated manuscripts of Plautus’s comedies that are not many, and all are referable to the fifteenth century. These include a manuscript of great visual impact: Ott. lat. 2005, made in Ferrara in 1468 (Fachechi, Plauto illustrato, pp. 180-184). In addition to its typical humanistic decoration, with bianchi girari, there are eight full-plate miniatures displayed in the margins of the writing space, corresponding to the eight preserved comedies. These are not narrative scenes, but rather synthetic representations of the contents of the work, as shown by the representation of two donkeys on f. 18v for the Asinaria. The manuscript, Plut. 36.41 (Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana), made around 1460, also has the ornamentation with bianchi girari, but has a completely different iconographic schemes, in which the mythological scenes alluding to the content of the plays are depicted in the medallions of the frieze of the incipit page (Fachechi, Plauto illustrato, pp. 184-186).

The manuscript, ms. latin 16234 (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France), made in Bourges in 1469, adopts another illustrative scheme, in which the miniaturist had planned to implement a miniature for each comedy, but only the first two were actually completed. These illustrations demonstrate the strongly narrative character of the illustration in which the scenes take place in detailed landscapes and are complete with the protagonists of the comedy in question (Avril, Scheda nr. 107, pp. 404-406). The manuscript, latin 7890 (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France), also of French origin, was illuminated by the “Master of Virgil” at the beginning of the fifteenth century, and presents a tripartite miniature which only depicts the Amphitruo, which appears to be absolutely the most illuminated comedy and the one upon which greater emphasis and care in representation is placed (Avril, Gli autori classici; Avril, Scheda nr. 107, pp. 404-406). Therefore, for Plautus there is no standardized illustrative typology, perhaps due to the complexity of the narrated plot; the work of Plautus, however, rediscovered in its entirety only in the fifteenth century, captured the attention of important Italian humanists such as Poggio Bracciolini, Niccolò Niccoli, Giovanni Pontano and many others, and was thus also furnished with an abundant illuminated apparatus (Cappelletto, La ‘Lectura Plauti’).

Vat. lat. 3870, ff. 1v and 2r

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