This lecture centers on the historiography and future of Italian manuscript illumination with the goal of suggesting new methods of attribution and assessment for art historians, dealers, and collectors. The Philadelphia area collections and BiblioPhilly initiative provide ample inspiration for scholars of this material and will form a cornerstone of our focus.
Within the corpus of Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1550 and 1568), one reads the biographies of several illuminators, including Lorenzo Monaco, Fra Angelico, the painters of service books for the Sistine Chapel, and Giulio Clovio, the last of whom Vasari called “Michelangelo in miniature.” A present-day counterpart to the Lives is the Dizionario biografico dei miniatori italiani (ed. Milvia Bollati, 2004), which provides biographies of nearly four hundred named artists working from the 9th through 16th century. About one third are documented as illuminators, while another third are recorded as painters and as illuminators, separately, and the final third are assigned by art historians (based on signatures, connoisseurship, or other means). In addition, there are over two hundred and fifty anonymous maestri christened by scholars. Many studies have been informed by the Dizionario and dozens of new artists have since come to light.
A specific focus of this paper will be an assessment of the geographic organization by “schools” in the published catalogues of various collections, such as Cambridge (UK), the Cini Foundation, and Kupferstichkabinett collections, and several private holdings. In each, the collaborative nature of manuscript production—by artists, scribes, and other craftspeople from different neighborhoods or regions—is often overshadowed by the career of individual illuminators. A discussion of exhibitions will also be offered, and a vision for future digital collaborations will form the conclusion.