29. Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia (Books I–XVI)
Northern Europe, beginning of the 13th century
parchment; 405 x 305 mm; fols. i + 166 + i
In terms of its materials, script and ornamentation, this codex is a typical example of the high-quality manuscript production of northern Europe and it can be dated to the early 13th century. The first of two volumes (the second is Plut. 82.2, containing Books XVII–XXVII of the Naturalis Historia), the manuscript is written in littera textualis and is distinguished by its rich ornamentation, which includes the large scene (fol. 2v) portraying Pliny as he offers his work to the emperor Titus, initials whose decorative repertory reflect insular influences, and figured initials. As Giovanna Lazzi noted (Vedere i classici 1996), for the latter it seems that the illuminator took up “an established repertory, but one that is unrelated to the text”. Indeed, these initials draw on liturgical and religious models: for example, the Christ in Majesty in the letter O (fol. 141v) and the Nativity in the letter P (fol. 147v). The small figure depicted in the scene at fol. 2v, set amidst the foliage of a tree and bearing a cartouche with the words “Petrus de Slaglosia me fecit”, has been identified as the illuminator of this codex, who may have been from Slagelse, Denmark. Studies conducted by Filippo Di Benedetto (1972) have confirmed that in the 15th century the two volumes, Plut. 82.1 and 82.2, were at a Dominican convent in Lübeck, where they were ‘discovered’ by Ludovico Baglioni. Between 1413 and 1433 Baglioni was the partner of Gherardo Bueri (c. 1386–1449), a distant relative of the Medici family and head of the Lübeck branch of the Medici bank. Baglioni informed Cosimo de’ Medici the Elder (1389–1464) of the existence of the two manuscripts and, urged by Niccolò Niccoli (c. 1364–1437), Cosimo spared no effort to obtain them. He was ultimately successful and thus the first complete copy of Pliny’s work was brought to Florence. The codices became part of the library of the convent of San Marco and were then transferred to the Biblioteca Laurenziana, probably at the behest of Grand Duke Cosimo I. This may have been the manuscript viewed by Julius Pomponius Laetus (1428–97; see Avesani 1962). It was methodically collated by Politian (1454–94), who taught a private course on Pliny between October 1489 and April 1490. Indeed, the Naturalis Historia was the focus of humanistic debate from both a philological and scientific standpoint (Charlet 2003). The manuscript is open at fol. 2v, portraying the author dedicating his work to the emperor Titus.