Legacy of Letters 2023—The Trivulziana Library in Milano


Detail of Divina Commedia (1337) (Biblioteca Trivulziana)

Detail of Divina Commedia by Dante Alighieri (1337) (Biblioteca Trivulziana Cod. 1080), Written out by Francesco di ser Nardo da Barberino in a “minuscola cancelleresca”.

In the afternoon of the first day of Legacy of Letters 2023 there will be an option to visit the Biblioteca Trivulziana in Milano with lettering and type historian James Clough as our guide. As with the Braidense, I asked James why the Trivulziana was important for type enthusiasts. He responded with this note:

The Trivulziana library for lettering enthusiasts
The library of the Trivulzio family of Milan dates back to the fifteenth century. Following centuries of acquisitions of manuscripts and printed books, it was sold to the city of Milan by Prince Luigi Alberico Trivulzio in 1935. Located in the Milan Castle (Castello Sforzesco), the Biblioteca Trivulziana has an important collection of manuscripts from the eighth century up to the Renaissance, with script styles including early carolingian, textura, rotunda, early and later humanist bookhands, italics, and French bâtarde all well represented. A Divina Commedia of 1337 is particularly interesting on account of its ‘minuscola cancelleresca’ script that was developed from a Florentine style practiced by notaries and clergy. The range of incunabula in the Trivulziana includes a Cicero printed by Nicolas Jenson in his roman (1470) and a delightful 16mo book of hours in rotunda also printed by Jenson. There are several significant books printed by Erhard Ratdolt. Aldus Manutius is also present with his most celebrated works. Among the sixteenth-century books there is a copy of a Petrarch (1503) printed by Gerson Soncino in Griffo’s second italic (with the printer’s exaltation of the great punchcutter) and several books printed by Arrighi in italic types based on his own calligraphic style. There is also a copy of the first edition of Vasari’s Lives… printed in Florence in 1550 by Lorenzo Torrentino. It is extraordinary for its typographic variety (see Updike, p. 163)

Opere Volgari by Petrarca (Fano: Gershom Soncino, 1503), f.6v. Set in an italic type by Francesco Griffo. Image from the John Rylands Library (Manchester, England)

I followed up by asking James a few questions about the manuscripts and books he mentioned.

Paul: Since several of the books you mention have been digitized and placed online (see the links to the Petrarch by Soncino and the Torrentino edition of Vasari’s Lives) why should someone want to visit the Trivulziana to see those books?

James: Besides being well printed in Griffo’s second italic—which is better than his Aldine italic—the Opere volgari di Messer Francesco Petrarca (Fano: Girolamo Soncino, 1503) is also notable for the printer’s tribute to Griffo (Francesco da Bologna). See griffoggi.com. This second italic for Soncino comes about two years after Aldus’s tribute to his punchcutter in the octavo Virgil (1501).

As for Torrentino’s Vasari in two volumes, it shows some extraordinary articulations of the text. The headings with the names of painters are sometimes in three or more lines with declining sizes of spaced caps on each line, deliberately making an “inverted pyramid” for aesthetic effect. This was a fashion in 16th-century books. The roman and italic in the Vasari are certainly of French origin and were probably cut by either Garamont or Granjon. The six-line drop initials are very fine and the cicero roman of the text abounds with dates and names in spaced small caps. Italics appear frequently for epitaphs. It would be interesting to compare Torrentino’s Vasari with the second edition published by Giunta in 1568. 

Le Vite by Giorgio Vasari (Florence: Lorenzo Torrentino, 1550), p. 562.

Paul: What do you find so interesting about the “minuscola cancelleresca” of the 1337 Divina Commedia?

James: The “minuscola cancelleresca” was rarely used as a book hand and during the 14th century seems to have been reserved for certain authors like Dante [see image at top]. I don’t think many scholars are aware of it.

Paul: What is the distinction between “early” and “late” humanist bookhands? 

James: Though they are not in the so-called Paduan style, later examples of Humanist bookhand show letterforms closer to our idea of Roman type. (The Trivulziana does not have any “Paduan” humanist manuscripts.)

Paul: We have been providing links in this post (and in this one for the Biblioteca Braidense) to digitized copies of some of these books. Why should anyone pay to join Legacy of Letters and travel to Milano when they can just look at the books online from their home?

James: Oh crikey! But you can say that about any library, not just those in Milan, can’t you? It’s a bit like seeing someone on TV and meeting them in the flesh. There is a difference.

Paul: I totally agree. Seeing books in person allows one to feel their weight, judge their size, smell their paper and ink, hear the paper as the pages turn, see their real colors, etc. And, not every copy of every printed book is identical.

I visited the Trivulziana in 1994 and again in 2002 as part of my research into the work of Bartolomeo Sanvito. The library holds a manuscript consisting of texts by Bindo Bonichi da Siena, Dante Alighieri and Sennuccio del Bene, Canzoni (Cod. 1053 [Collocazione M33]) that was partially written out by the Paduan calligrapher in the early 1490s. There are several other notable printed books in the Trivulziana —not mentioned by James—which I did not have time to see back then. Among them are: De civitate dei by St. Augustine (Subiaco: Sweynheim & Pannartz, 1467); De architectura by Vitruvius (Como: Gottardo da Ponte, 1521); Emblemata by Andreæ Alciati (Lyon: Guillaume Rouillé, 1549); and Contes et Nouvelles en Vers by Jean de la Fontaine (Paris: Barbou, 1762). The latter is printed in types cut by Pierre Simon Fournier le jeune. Those types can be seen in Fournier’s Manuel Typographique (1764–1766), a copy of which is also in the Trivulziana.

For more information about Legacy of Letters 2023 or to register contact Paul Shaw at paulshaw@nyc.rr.com.