Psalter and Passion Sequence Copied by Pietro Ursuleo of Capua, ca. 1460


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Psalter and Passion Sequence Copied by Pietro Ursuleo (d. 1484) for a Patron in Ravenna. Italy, doubtless Naples, ca. 1460: 171 mm x 126 mm (justification, approx. 132 mm x 83 mm). Single column, 19 lines. The leaf is unfoliated, but the number “29” (Septuagint numbering) is written across from Ps. 30 (Hebrew numbering) in early modern pen. Decoration: A two-line bianchi girari initial I in gold on colored grounds; alternating gold and blue versal initials with faint contrasting penwork. Text: Pietro Ursuleo served as bishop of Satriano in the extreme south of Italy, and on his deathbed was elevated to archbishop of Santa Severina. He is known to have copied innumerable works, both religious and secular, during a long residence in Naples. While he was a notable scribe, he probably did not illustrate his manuscripts. That seems to have been done in our manuscript by Matteo Felice or a workshop artist. A combined Psalter and Passion Sequence is unusual, but Ursuleo copied at least two of them. One survives intact at Trinity College, Cambridge. Our fragment comes from the Psalter portion: Psalm 29.7 Ego autem … Psalm 30.12 inimicos meos. About twenty leaves are known in collections worldwide, but ours is, so far, the first in sequence to be identified from the book. Based on the litany, Peter Kidd has reasoned that it was made for a patron in Ravenna. Our leaf sheds light on remarks made in a sales catalogue (see below) that some of the margins were repaired. It has been suggested that this may have resulted from a flood when in the possession of John Boykett Jarman (his sale, Sotheby’s 13 June 1864 lot 161.) This seems unlikely, however. Water damage is visible on our leaf, admittedly, but the (dreadful) repair was inscribed with the same early modern Psalm number as survives on the leaf at present. Our fragment is unusual for another reason: its texts were copied in Humanistic Minuscule, which was usually reserved for classical writings rather than religious ones, for which Gothic was commonly used. Provenance: On the provenance, see Peter Kidd’s exposition at this link. According to Kidd, the intact volume first appeared in Tregaskis catalogue no. 743 for 1913. With 167 folios, it comprised Psalms, hymns, a litany, and the Passion narratives from all four Gospels. By 1916 Tregaskis had cut up the manuscript and was selling individual leaves. The colophon leaf is preserved at the National Library of Australia in Canberra, and an image of it can be found here. Our manuscript bears inscriptions “£2” and “MS 531” in modern pencil in the upper right-hand corner. Condition: Our leaf has been professionally conserved. The old repair has been removed (and retained), and the damaged edges have been skillfully restored. While staining and offsets still remain, the leaf is now stable and certainly presentable.

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