The Enduring Fascination of Bartolomeo Sanvito Renaissance Scribe—A Zoom talk 7 June 2023

The Enduring Fascination of Bartolomeo Sanvito, Renaissance Scribe
Wednesday, June 7, 2023 at 10 am PDT / 1 pm EDT
A free on-line talk via Zoom sponsored by the Friends of Calligraphy.

Caius Julius Caesar, Commentari de bello Gallico et civile c.1464–1466 (Biblioteca Ambrosiana A 243 inf, f. 10). Written out by Bartolomeo Sanvito.

Bartolomeo Sanvito
Bartolomeo Sanvito was born in Padua in 1433. He was trained in gothic cursive and his earliest dated italic script is from mid-1454. His first known work, a copy of Tibullus to which he added a gathering c.1452/1453, is his only manuscript not to have capitals in alternating colors. This distinctive aspect of Sanvito’s oeuvre first appeared in his second work, a copy of Virgil (dated to c.1453/1454) that he wrote out entirely. Sanvito did not invent polychrome capitals, but he made them into his personal mark. His early colored capitals were hesitant and stiff imitations of those pioneered by Biagio Saraceno, but sometime between 1457 and 1459 he began to make letters that, because they were written rather than drawn, were fresher and livelier. His assured writing caught the attention of leading Venetian Humanists and wealthy patrons. In the early 1460s—the years when his writing matured and became yoked to the new all’antica style of decoration—his most important patron was Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga.

Sanvito was part of Cardinal Gonzaga’s household from 1463 until the Cardinal’s death in 1483. He moved with the Cardinal to Rome in October 1464 and remained there, with frequent trips back to Padua, until 1501. During these decades he was the leading scribe of Humanist texts. Among his clients during this time were Pope Sixtus IV, King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, and Bernardo Bembo. On many of these manuscripts he worked with the best miniaturists of the day, especially with Gaspare da Padova. The two began their collaboration in 1469 with a stunning copy of Julius Caesar and continued until the early 1490s when it is believed Gaspare died.

The new invention of printing began to have an affect on Sanvito’s livelihood by 1478, but the death of Cardinal Gonzaga in 1483 dealt him a more serious blow. There is evidence that Sanvito began to make manuscripts “on spec” with the hope of attracting other clients. Unfortunately, the 1480s are also the decade in which there is evidence that he suffered from arthritis. During the 1490s he wrote out a number of copies of Cicero, the first of which (dated to December 1494) is considered his earliest pocket-sized manuscript. It was an alternative to printed editions of the text, preceding the famous printed pocket-books of Aldus Manutius.

During these last years of the 15th century, Sanvito began initialling and dating some of his manuscripts, one of which (another copy of Cicero dated 14 February 1497) became the key to his identification by James Wardrop and Augusto Campana in 1947. Sanvito left Rome in 1501 and spent the last decade of his life in his native Padua. He continued to write out manuscripts, including a combined Epistolarium et Evangeliarum (1509), the only manuscript he signed with his full name. Sanvito died in 1511.

Paul Shaw
A designer and design historian, Paul Shaw has researched and written about the history of graphic design with a focus on typography, lettering and calligraphy for three decades. His areas of interest have included blackletter, George Salter, Phil Grushkin, W.A. Dwiggins, Frank Holme, Morris Fuller Benton, and the signage of the New York City subway system—and Renaissance scribe Bartolomeo Sanvito and Renaissance sculptor Andrea Bregno, the dual subject of his 2002 Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome.

Zoom talk
Paul’s talk will not only survey Sanvito’s six decades of calligraphic work, but try to explain why he—above all other Renaissance scribes—has come to fascinate art historians and contemporary calligraphers. For more information and to register, go to the FOC website and scroll to Shaw on Sanvito. The event is limited to 500 participants and one log-on device per participant.

Virgil and Pseudo-Ovid 1463 (British Library Harley 2726 f.194v). Written out by Franciscus de Camuciis, except for the final four lines (including his name), which were written by Bartolomeo Sanvito.