Cataloguer’s conundrum: Can anyone identify this 14th century Italian motif?
***For a full update on this conundrum, see this post from 12 March 2012.***
This is the first folio of a beautiful, mid 14th century manuscript of the Pseudo-Augustinian ‘Sermones ad Fratres in Eremo’ (msBR65.A9S2), which has been in the possession of the Library since at least the mid-19th century, and perhaps earlier.
We are hoping that someone might recognise the distinctive motif at the foot of the folio, which is also referenced within the fine decoration of some of the initials throughout the manuscript: three hills topped by a cross with two olive branches. We have been told that it is unique to a monastery of Olivetan monks in the Milan area, however, this seems unlikely, as the only known Olivetan monastery near Milan was not dedicated until 1470. To date we have not been able either to substantiate this or to positively identify a likely house. It is undoubtedly Italian, and probably northern. There is also a largely obliterated medieval inscription on the final folio which reads (according to N.R. Ker and A.J. Piper): “Iste liber est Conuentus fratrum /sanctorum Nicholai et […]/ Oliueti […] prope […]”, which could refer to L’abbazia olivetana di San Nicola near Rodengo-Saiano in Lombardia.
St. Bernard Tolomei, founder of the Olivetans, is commonly depicted with this same motif, and we have recently found this image (left), at Heraldica.org, which depicts the arms of Monte Oliveto Maggiore inlaid in marble on the floor of the courtyard of the monastery. This motif is almost an exact match to that found in our manuscript, however, was this motif general to all Olivetan monasteries or specific to Monte Oliveto Maggiore? Also, has this motif been recorded in other manuscripts, in a similar style?
We are particularly interested to locate the provenance this manuscript more definitely, since we have recently acquired a later (late 15th or 16th century) manuscript from a house in Brescia which, although more crude, displays some similarities in decorative style (and which we will describe more fully in a future blog post). A more detailed comparison could be fruitful, especially if we can place where this Pseudo-Augustinian manuscript was produced. Any further information will be greatly appreciated.
***UPDATE 14:30 11/01/2012***
Here are two more images of some of the other pen-decorated initials found in this manuscript, featuring the motif of the Olivetans. We are hoping that this type of decoration is specific to one scriptorium or decorator and that we can locate where this manuscript was produced. If you’ve seen anything like this in any other manuscripts, please let us know!