34. Quintilian, Institutio oratoria
Central Italy (Florence), 15th century (13 March 1477: see the colophon with the date
written in the Florentine style at fol. 248r)
parchment; 335 x 234 mm; fols. i + 248 + i
In terms of its materials, script and ornamentation, this codex is a typical example of the high-quality Florentine manuscript production of the second half of the 15th century. Written in humanistic script, it was the work of two professional scribes identified by Albinia de la Mare (1985) as the scribe of MS Urb. Lat. 441 (fols. 1r–100v, 144r–248r) and Gundisalvus de Heredia (fols. 101r–43v). The artist who created the rich and extremely elegant illustrations distinguishing the various sections of the text has also been identified. The painter was Francesco Rosselli (1448–after 1508), who in the 1470s and early 1480s worked for a number of illustrious patrons, in whose honour he devised “extremely refined and sumptuous decorative concepts” (Di Domenico 2005). For the Medici, in particular, in addition to this work Rosselli also illuminated two Aristotelian codices (Plut. 71.7 and 84.1), a copy of the Iliad (Plut. 32.4), a codex of Lucan (Plut. 91 sup. 32) and one of Herodotus (Plut. 67.1). In all of these works he displays perfect mastery of the humanistic decorative repertory, composed of candelabra, putti, cameos, masks, cornucopias, clipei (medallions), flaming basins, heraldic devices and idealized portraits. In the initial P on fol. 1r the bust of Quintilian, garbed “in the Greek style” to evoke the figure of the Eastern sage, is particularly striking (Vedere i classici 1996). The manuscript was produced for Lorenzo (1463–1503) and Giovanni (1467–98), sons of Pier Francesco de’ Medici (the Medici coat of arms can be seen in the middle of the lower border of fol. 1r), as also noted in the ownership inscription written on fol. 248r by their teacher Giorgio Antonio Vespucci (1434–1514), who added many Greek words in the blank spaces left by the scribes (Daneloni 2001). Vespucci’s interest in this text is not surprising, given the fact that the merits of the Institutio oratoria—educational and otherwise—were widely acknowledged in the 15th century. For example, both Lorenzo Valla (1407–57) and Politian (1454–94) noted that its methodical structure and clear, exhaustive style made it ideal for teaching rhetoric. The manuscript is open at fol. 1r, with the incipit of the treatise and the portrait of Quintilian.