STUDYING PALIMPSESTS IN THE VATICAN
Earliest discoveries of palimpsests
In the Vatican Library, palimpsests have been studied since 1772, when Paul Jakob Bruns, German theologian and literary scholar, and his Italian colleague, Vito Maria Giovenazzi managed to transcribe a Livian palimpsest fragment he found under a Biblical text he was studying as the scriptio superior of Pal. lat. 24.
Pal. lat. 24, ff. 73r + 78v
Surprisingly, despite hundreds of years of research before his discovery, Vatican palimpsests were still left unnoticed –although they were often quite visible. When studying the Vatican manuscripts of Isidore of Seville in the last years of the eighteenth century, Faustino Arévaldo identified Isidore’s text underneath the upper text of Vat. lat. 650, and as the upper text of Vat. lat. 5763 with erased fragments of the Vulgate as a lower text.
Vat. lat. 5763, f. 15r
Before Angelo Mai's arrival to the Vatican Library, Barthold Georg Niebuhr, a Danish-German scholar and politician, began to study the Livian (inf. 8) and Ciceronian (inf. 9 and inf. 10) fragments of Pal. lat. 24 in 1819. He was the first to use chemical reagents (hydrosulphureum potassae) at the Vatican Library, with the permission of Cardinal Librarian Ercole Consalvi and Francesco Baldi, prefect of the Library and predecessor of Angelo Mai.
Pal. lat. 24, ff. 77v + 74r