copied by Bartolomeo Sanvito
parchment; 255 × 156 mm; ff. 271
London, The British Library, Stowe MS 1016
The return to classical sources, advocated by scholars and artists, promoted the collecting of antique Latin inscriptions from the early fifteenth century onwards. These inscriptions, found on tombstones, headstones, monuments and other often neglected buildings, as well as coins and graffiti, were the only direct testimony of classical language and writing unmediated by later manuscripts. Moreover, learned antiquarians considered them primary and uncorrupted source of information regarding the history of Rome, its territories and institutions. Following the example of his illustrious predecessors (Poggio Bracciolini, Ciriaco d’Ancona and Giovanni Marcanova), the Verona-born antiquarian and architect Giovanni Giocondo (c. 1433– 1515) (who revised the text for the 1511 editions of De Architectura by Vitruvius (cat. 56) and Caesar’s Commentarii for the Aldine edition of 1513), began his own personal collection of inscriptions already in the 1470s. In full awareness of their historical importance and with unprecedented philological attention towards their texts, Giocondo kept carefully separeted the inscriptions that he had personally reviewed and corrected from those for which he had gained information from third parties. His sylloge survives in three recensions assembled between c. 1475 and 1502, as testified by seventeen Renaissance manuscripts, eight of which are in the hand of Bartolomeo Sanvito (de la Mare, Nuvoloni 2009, nos. 51, 92, 96, 104, 110–112, 123; Buonocore 2014, pp. 239–242, 252–253).
Amongst the latter, The British Library manuscript is an important representative of the third recension. In the present as well as in all other manuscripts of the sylloge copied by him, the Padua-born scribe transcribed part of the texts in his beautiful humanist cursive and part in epigraphic capitals, in gold and colours, inserted into small monuments and tablets, often ansate and decorated. In so doing Sanvito followed the facies of other fifteenth-century sylloges, especially those assembled for Giovanni Marcanova (in particular Modena, Biblioteca Estense, cod. lat. 992 [olim α. L. 5. 15]; Gionta 2007); but he contravened to Giocondo’s choice of concentrating on the accuracy of the text and language of the inscriptions, to avoid the danger of reproducing their script and ornamentation in an inaccurate way, as he explicitly declared in a dedicatory letter to Lorenzo de’ Medici (Koortbojian 2002, pp. 304–306, 312).
It is therefore not surprising that Giocondo carefully checked the wording of the inscriptions in the manuscript copied by Sanvito for Lorenzo between 1488 and 1489 (Vat. lat. 10228; de la Mare, Nuvoloni 2009, no. 92; Buonocore 2014, pp. 246–248). As a result, Lorenzo’s sylloge combines the extreme correctness of the texts with Sanvito’s decoration and script (all in epigraphic capitals) at the apex of their elegance; ironically, it might have also inspired the fictitious inscriptions in epigraphic capitals engraved in the imaginary monuments, urns, plaques and marble tombstones represented in the woodcuts of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Book I, ff. p6v, p7v, p8v, q2v, q3r, q4v, q6v, r4r; cat. 28).