Penn Libraries Events & Exhibitions

The manuscripts displayed here reveal the merest fraction of the enormous tradition and equally enormous range of Petrarchan manuscripts that have survived from Petrarch's own times and the periods immediately following his own. These manuscripts were made in Italy, Germany, and France, but Petrarch's manuscript circulation was geographically far more widespread than these examples alone indicate. The examples displayed come from only three American collections, those in the Libraries at Cornell and Penn, and one exemplar from the collection of Lawrence J. Schoenberg.

Some of these manuscripts are plain, others are fancy. Some are beautifully adorned, others simply made for ease of use. Some are finished, others fragmentary. Some show a writer still at work. Others offer variant texts created by a writer rarely satisfied with his own work and almost always engaged either in trying something new or revising the old.

Every manuscript is, by definition, unique — but with a writer like Petrarch that canard takes on a certain special force. Thus this display makes evident — although one can say so only with a modicum of diffidence — that, if for most purposes Petrarch remains a writer whose textual difficulties must be investigated in those European libraries that preserve the vast majority of his manuscript remains, American libraries also contain materials needed for the ongoing effort to establish Petrarch's texts on as firm a codicological and bibliographical basis as possible.

The manuscripts exhibited here suggest how, even in an era before print made easy the widespread dissemination of literary works, some writers nonetheless managed to garner audiences throughout Europe. Petrarch became one of them while he was still alive. The sheer physical beauty of many of these manuscripts, and the evident pride in their skills shown by the scribes, illuminators, and rubricators who worked on them, offer visible proof of the hold on audiences that Petrarch quickly took. He has kept that hold as an author who continues to be read and valued for seven, now moving on to eight, centuries.




UPenn MS. Ital 151.
University of Pennsylvania Library.

Supposedly a bookseller's bill — but possibly a bookseller's inventory — this list, which dates from the later sixteenth century, includes an item by Petrarch (line 9). Also listed are works by, inter alia, Jacopo Sannazaro, Petro Bembo, Lodovico Ariosto, and Giovanni della Casa.


Francesco Petrarca.
"Oratione optima a nostra dona di misere," (RVF 366 "Vergine Bella") in a Miscellany of religious verse and prose.
UPenn MS. Ital 73 37r.
Manuscript on paper, Siena[?], 15th-16th centuries.
University of Pennsylvania Library.

Canzone RVF 366 ("Vergine bella," or "Beautiful virgin"), the last in the cycle of the Canzoniere, appears as part of a fifty-four-leaf compilation of religious works written in several hands during the later fifteenth and earlier sixteenth centuries.


Francesco Petrarca.
"Collatio inter Scipionem, Alexandrum, Annibalem et Pyrhum," in a Renaissance miscellany.
UPenn MS. Codex 829 14r.
Manuscript on paper, Italy, 1459-1484.
University of Pennsylvania Library.

Guido Martellotti's "most probable hypothesis" about this manuscript — apparently the sole surviving exemplar of the Petrarchan text it contains — is that it is "a rough sketch written by Petrarch in a moment of enthusiasm for his theme, and left unfinished among his papers." Martellotti's study, published in 1974 for the 600th anniversary of Petrarch's death, relates the sketch to the life of Scipio in Petrarch's De viris illustribus.


Francesco Petrarca.
"Trionfi del clarissimo poeta Mesere Francescho Petrarcha Fiorentino . . . "
Mss Bd. Petrarch P49 R512+
Manuscript on vellum. Florence, 1465-1470.
Copied by Nicolaus Spinosus. Illuminated by Francesco d'Antonio del Chierico.
Cornell University Library.

Sumptuously produced in a humanistic hand on vellum, this fifteenth-century manuscript contains the Triumphs, the Sonnets and the Canzone, and an index. At the 1859 Libri sale, it fetched £178/0/0 — a somewhat lower price than a copy of the 1501 Aldine printed edition of Petrarch auctioned at the same sale. The book is open to a historiated initial with borders that depicts Petrarch dreaming while Time retreats on crutches. The partially defaced coat of arms visible at the bottom of the leaf appears to represent the arms of Scanderbeg impaling Albania. It may therefore indicate that this manuscript once belonged to Giorgio Scanderbeg — also known as George (or Gjergj) Kastrioti, he organized a league of Albanian princes and, as their commander, successfully defended Albania against some thirteen Turkish invasions between 1444 and 1466; he is an Albanian national hero — or his son Giovanni.


Francesco Petrarca.
"D. Francisci Petrarchae poetae laureati Triumphi sex incipit . . ."
Mss Bd. Petrarch P P49 T8
Manuscript on vellum, Italy, early 16th century.
Cornell University Library.

A Humanist hand, writing on vellum, produced this copy of the Triumphs. The manuscript, open to text, indicates something of what it might have felt like to read this poem in a copy without any special illustrative or other adornment.


Francesco Petrarca.
"De vera sapientia."
Mss Bd. Petrarch P492 D24
Manuscript on paper, Germany, mid 15th century.
Cornell University Library.

Written in a cursive hand, this German manuscript presents a Latin dialogue between two characters called Idyota and Sapientia. The work, although it is found in numerous early editions of Petrarch, is now thought to derive largely from a text by Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464). Nonetheless, even works now only doubtfully ascribed to Petrarch influenced the ways in which readers responded to him. They form part of the tradition that constitutes "Petrarch."


Francesco Petrarca.
Mss Bd. Petrarch P P49 Z5 v.I no. 6.
Manuscript on paper, northern France, ca. 1450.
Cornell University Library.

Written in a "bastard hand", a hybrid script formed from Gothic and cursive styles, this manuscript comes from northern France where three different scribes worked to produce it. It contains four of Petrarch's works, as well as a work by Alphonsus de Aragon (n.d.). It is open to a small red and blue initial marking a section of Petrarch's "De contemptu mundi."


Francesco Petrarca.
"Laureati poete domini Francisca Petrarca septempsalmi penitentiales," in a "Alphabetum malarum mulierum."
Manuscript on paper, Italy, 15th century.
University of Pennsylvania Library.

This manuscript, written in a Gothic script, binds together three apparently unrelated works. One is a misogynist alphabet comprising quotations from classical and Biblical text. Another collects excerpts from Aristotle with marginal commentary. The volume is open to Petrarch's seven penitential psalms.


Francesco Petrarca.
Mss Bd. Petrarch P P49 R513.
Manuscript on vellum, Northeastern Italy (Florence [?]), ca. 1460.
Cornell University Library.

"Memorabilia quedam de Laura."
Fol. 1 recto.
"Voi ch' ascoltate in rime sparse 'l sono" (RVF 1)
Fol. 7 recto.

A Humanistic hand has written the text of this expensively-produced vellum manuscript of texts drawn from the Rime. It contains the "Memorabilia quedam de Laura" (Fol. 1 recto.), the Sonnets Fol. 7 recto., the Triumphs, and an index.


Francesco Petrarca.
Letter to his brother Gerardo [Epistolae familiares, 10:3] in a Miscellany [Jacobus de Cessolis, Ludus Schaccorum; Pseudo-Seneca, De Remediis Fortuitorum Liber; Cronica Gestorum a Cesare Et Pompeio; Psuedo-Isidorus, Ymago Mundi; Francesco Petrarch, RVF 366 "Vergine Bella" (and other poems from the Canzoniere); M. Bono Da Lucca, Computus Lunaris; (and additional texts, in Latin and Italian)].
LJS MS 267, fol. 106r.
Manuscript on vellum, Northern Italy, 1409.
Courtesy of Lawrence J. Schoenberg.

The scribe who wrote this manuscript, Franciscus Gennay — about whom nothing, not even work on other manuscripts, is known — signed it in four places and dated it 1409. He was particularly interested in matters that concern Bologna and Cesena. An early owner of the book came from Mantua ("Dompnus Paulus de Mantua scripsit."). These two facts encourage assignment of the manuscript's origins to north Italy. Paul of Mantua's signature appears at the end (f. 145v) of Petrarch's letter to his brother, a Carthusian monk to whose spiritual state Petrarch contrasts his own. The book is open to the letter's beginning (f. 138v). The bottom of the leaf on the right shows repair to the vellum; above it, a reader (Paul himself?) has drawn a marginal finger pointing to a "sentence," a moral apothegm: "To beginners all things appear difficult . . ." Other Petrarchan texts, among them several of the Canzoniere, also appear in this volume. Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872) is one of its previous owners.

  Exhibition Introduction | Petrarch and His Milieu | Petrarch in Manuscript | Petrarch in Print
Petrarch and Censorship |Petrarch in Translation | Petrarch and Music