20. FROM HUMANISTIC SCRIPTS TO PRINTED BOOKS
The spread of humanistic writing
While it should not be forgotten that university books continued to be written in Gothic bookhands, with two-column text and large margins to be used for commentary (like books for liturgical and conventual use that were made in the same script), some scribes, following the example of Poggio Bracciolini and Niccolò Niccoli, embarked on the path of the imitation of Caroline.
Among the first to take this course was the very active scribe, Antonio di Mario, future notary of the Signoria (Lordship) of Florence between 1436 and 1446. We have about forty manuscripts copied by his hand; many were commissioned by Niccoli and later became part of Cosimo de’ Medici’s library of Classics. Gherardo del Ciriagio, who was also a notary of the Florentine Signoria between 1457 and 1464, was a scribe who worked on behalf of the Medici and the Florentine bookseller Vespasiano da Bisticci, produced dozens of codices of Latin Classics and Greek Classics translated into Latin, and used an elegant, solid humanistic Minuscule script. An example of his works is Vat. lat. 1811, dated 1461, which contains the History of the Sicilian Diodorus translated by Bracciolini. In Florence Antonio Sinibaldi (1443-1499) also worked for the workshop of Vespasiano da Bisticci. Sinibaldi copied the Carmina of Prudentius in Urb. lat. 666 that was destined for the Urbino library of Federico da Montefeltro, and later worked in Naples at the service of Ferrante of Aragon.
Humanist minuscule spread rapidly from Florence to Italy, prompted by the ease with which scholars and scribes moved from one city to another. Also stimulating the increased use of the script were the ideals of humanism flourishing in the courts of the Roman pontiffs and Italian princes. The commission of the ecclesiastical and aristocratic authorities was of extraordinary importance in furnishing the papal and aristocratic libraries with a proliferation of Humanistic writing, both of Florentine and of local origin. In this process of circulation, the antiqua of Florence underwent small variations here and there.
Nicholas and Pius II, summoned various humanists to Rome. Paul II commissions the manuscript Vat. lat. 1819, Roman Antiquities by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, just translated from the Greek by Lampugnino Birago and copied by Antonio di Domenico da Toffia in 1460-1470. It is a particularly round form of antiqua with a uniform and vertical formation of letters. It is also characterized by small ornamentation at the end of the ascenders and descenders, the use of the diphthong in the æ form, and especially by the separation of letters, written one by one. Among the major centers of book collections in the second half of the 15th century was the library set up in Urbino by Federico da Montefeltro. Many codices were purchased from the workshop of Vespasiano da Bisticci, like the famous Urbino Bible, copied by Ugo de Comminellis in 1477-78, Urb. lat. 1-2, and among the major artistic masterpieces of the manuscript world. Others were produced by scribes who worked in Urbino, such as Federico Veterani or Matteo Contugi, who created the beautiful manuscript of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Urb. lat. 365, for Federico da Montefeltro after having worked in the service of the Gonzaga family of Mantua and of the Este family of Ferrara for years.
Urb. lat. 1 e 2, Urbino Bible
In Italy, many other libraries of princes were enriched by manuscripts in the Humanistic script, produced by local scribes and often benefitting from a exchange with famous copyists and miniaturists. In addition to the aforementioned courts of Mantua and Ferrara, we cannot forget those of Malatesta family in Cesena, of Sforza family in Milan and of the court of Naples, capital of the Aragon kingdom. In Aragon, Ferrante I established an impressive library where a new graphic style was also developed, in addition to the style in Florence. We have also been able to discover the writing of some humanists: they often use the humanistic script of the Italic type, such as that of Vat. lat. 3285, which contains texts by Lucan, made by Pomponius Laetus around 1470 probably in Venice, or in Vat. lat. 3617, where the young Angelo Politian in 1475 transcribed (with others) part of the Iliad of Homer which he himself had translated into Latin hexameters.
Examples of humanistic writing are also found beyond the Italian border. In fact, there was no lack of exchange between scholars of different origins and Italian humanists, such as on the occasion of the Councils of Constance and of Basel (where Poggio Bracciolini was also found), or at the imperial court in Vienna, where Enea Silvio Piccolomini, future Pope Pio II, used to sojourn for years, or in England, where Bracciolini himself had been for four years. These exchanges generated interests for the Classics, for the new humanistic culture and for the writing that was their vehicle. In consequence, examples of that way of writing books, while limited to a particular elite, are also found in France, Flanders, Spain and Germany.