Bindo Bonichi, Dante and Senuccio del Bene

copied by Bartolomeo Sanvito
c. 1490
parchment; 139 × 86 mm; ff. 70
Milan, Archivio Storico Civico e Biblioteca Trivulziana, cod. 1053

This is the only manuscript of Dante’s rhymes copied by Sanvito to survive. The small codex contains canzoni by Dante, Bindo Bonichi and Senuccio del Bene; Teresa De Robertis identified it as in the hand of Sanvito; it dates back to the early 1490s. It might be further identified with a “libretto piccolo in charta bona” (small booklet on parchment) that was still in the scribe’s possession in 1508 and subsequently sold by him to a Paduan individual named Luca Bonfio (de la Mare, Nuvoloni 2009, no. 97). The volume dimensions are certainly diminutive: along with Bembo’s Horace (cat. 36), this is one of Sanvito’s manuscripts showing a proportional ratio between height and width dimensions (both of the leaves and text-block, measuring 86 × 45–53 mm) that is similar to the harmonious ratio divulged by Luca Pacioli in his 1509 treatise entitled De divina proportione (cat. 78) and expressed by an irrational number known since antiquity (1.61803...), as the “golden ratio”. As demonstrated by Paul Needham, this ratio underpins the production of both oblong and pocket-size manuscripts by Sanvito, and octavo editions by Manutius, thus supporting Aldus’ assertion of having taken inspiration from some codicetti belonging to Bernardo Bembo (Needham 1994a, pp. 302–305; Needham 1994b, pp. 130–135).

As in other manuscripts of classical Latin texts and vernacular poetry, Sanvito copied the text in the all’antica cursive that he had contributed in elevating to scrittura libraria (book hand) since the late 1450s. His cursive was not perfect (calligrapher James Wardrop described Sanvito as “a cultivated amateur”: Wardrop 1963, p. 27), but spacious and light, ever-changing and vibrant, although perfectly controlled: in other words, the writing of a calligrapher with a high aesthetic sense rather than a mere professional scribe. one can no longer define it as exactly cursive: of the latter it keeps the inclination and form of the letters (“a”; “f” and “s” elongated both below and above the writing line; rounded “s” at the end of the word), but it is almost devoid of ligatures and those still present (“ct”, “sp”, “st”, in addition to “ho”, “po”, uncial “T” and “o”) are often borrowed from the Greek cursive and are more compliant to aesthetical requirements for beauty and movement rather than speed of execution (Zamponi 2006a, pp. 63–64). Sanvito was a forerunner: by the end of the century, the cursive all’antica had become a formal and normalised hand and the letters (its primary elements) were written as entities separated from one another and therefore ready to be reproduced in series to be used in the mechanical process of printing with movable type.

Laura Nuvoloni