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Vita Caroli Magni


Acciaiuoli, Donato; author; Italian, d.1704
Benedetto Strozzi, Messer Piero di; scribe
Chierico, Francesco di Antonio del and associate; artist
; production


Viscount Fitzwilliam


illuminated manuscript


other; type of text




fifteenth century, third quarter


PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Parchment, ii paper flyleaves (first pasted to silk) + ii contemporary parchment flyleaves + 32 fols. + ii paper flyleaves (second pasted to silk), 245 x 165 mm (155 x 80 mm), 26 long lines, ruled in hard point, catchwords.

BINDING: Early nineteenth century, Paris, dark blue morocco over pasteboards, gilt and lined with pink silk, by Bozérian Jeune (gold lettering on spine: BEL. P. BOZERIAN JEON).

fol. 1v Dedication to Louis XI of France
fols. 2r-4r Donato Acciaiuoli, Preface addressed to Louis XI of France
fols. 6r-26r Donato Acciaiuoli, Vita Caroli Magni (ed. Mencke 1728-1730, I, cols. 813-832; Gatti 1981).

ORNAMENTATION: Gold-framed medallion with dedication to Louis XI of France written in gold and blue epigraphic capitals, supported by a putto, flanked by two musical putti, and surmounted by the royal arms of France supported by two putti, with two more kneeling above the shield (fol. 1v).

Two gold initials [both C, 6-7 ll.] filled with and framed by white vine-scroll on blue, pink and green ground, and accompanied by full white vine-scroll borders on blue, pink and green ground, inhabited by putti, birds and deer, the first one incorporating medallions with a child’s head and an armoured warrior’s bust, the second a medallion with plants, both including the royal arms of France supported by putti in the lower borders (fols. 2r, 6r).

Place (legacy):

Italy, production, region
Florence, place


illumination; whole


parchment; support
gold; medium




bequeathed; 1816; Fitzwilliam, Richard, 7th Viscount


Louis XI of France (1461-1483); Auguste Chardin (no. 450 in his catalogue of 1811); Richard, seventh Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion (1745–1816), acquired in 1814; his bequest, 1816.


Fitzwilliam, Richard, 7th Viscount; previous owner
Chardin, Auguste; previous owner
Louis XI, King of France; previous owner


This is the copy of Charlemagne’s Life presented by the Florentine ambassadors to the recently crowned Louis XI on 2 January 1462 (Milanesi 1865, 7, 25; Garin 1976; Gatti 1981, 1-19). It was commissioned by Lorenzo de’ Medici and produced by Vespasiano da Bisticci (c.1422-1498), the ‘prince of booksellers’ (de la Mare 1985, 401-406). The author, Donato Acciaiuoli (1429-1478), a renowned scholar and diplomat, was a trusted ambassador to Lorenzo de’ Medici and a close friend of Vespasiano da Bisticci’s, who described the presentation of the manuscript to Louis XI in his account of Donato’s life (Greco 1970-1976, II, 426; Gatti 1981, 20-27; Ganz 1982; Ganz 1990). Albinia de la Mare attributed the script to one of the leading Florentine scribes of the time, Messer Piero di Benedetto Strozzi (1416-c.1492), a parish priest of Ripoli, who copied manuscripts for Vespasiano’s distinguished clients between 1443 and 1490 (de la Mare 1985, 430-31, 530, App. I, 62 no. 10). The decoration was entrusted to Francesco di Antonio del Chierico (1433-1484), one of the dominant figures in contemporary Florentine illumination, due largely to his close associations with the Medici (Garzelli 1985, I, 101-156; Bollati in Bollati 2004, 228-32). He was responsible for the double opening of the dedication frontispiece and the prologue (fols. 1v-2r), which show the transition from the precise drawing technique and saturated pigments of his early works to the briskly sketched figures and delicate palette of his documented, post-1463 manuscripts. The opening of the main text (fol. 6r) was illuminated by a different artist, whose crisp outlines, deep colours and firm modeling follow Antonio del Chierico’s early works faithfully enough to suggest a master-apprentice relationship. The same artist assisted del Chierico in other important commissions, including two manuscripts produced by Vespasiano da Bisticci and copied by Piero di Benedetto Strozzi: the Medici Pliny (Florence, Laurenziana, MS Plut. 82, 3) and Alfonso of Aragon’s Livy (Florence, Biblioteca nazionale, MSS Banco rari 34-36). The close relationship between commissioner, author, scribe, artist and bookseller demonstrate the importance of this manuscript as a diplomatic gift that made a subtle political statement, offering the French king the biography of his celebrated predecessor in a copy which demonstrated the intellectual and artistic excellence of the Florentine Renaissance.


secundo folio; fol. 3r; sibi ad imitandum


Illuminated Manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam Museum. 1966 - 1966
Organiser: The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (Cambs.), UK
Venue: The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (Cambs.)
Catalogue number: 96

Treasures of the Fitzwilliam Museum. 2005 - 2005
Organiser: The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (Cambs.), UK
Catalogue number: 161

Splendours of Italian Illumination: Romanesque - Gothic - Renaissance. 1989 - 1990
Organiser: The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (Cambs.), UK
Venue: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Notes: unpublished handlist of an exhibition held in the Adeane gallery, October 1989 - February 1990
Catalogue number: 76


Woudhuysen, P.. 1982. Treasures of the Fitzwilliam Museum.Cambridge (Cambs.): Pevensey Press
cat. no.161

Wormald, Francis. Giles, Phyllis M.. 1966. Illuminated Manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam Museum.Cambridge (Cambs.):
cat. no. 96

James, Montague Rhodes, Dr. 1895. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam Museum.Cambridge (Cambs.): Cambridge University Pressp. 386

Searle, W. G., the Rev.. 1876. The Illuminated Manuscripts in the Library of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.Cambridge (Cambs.): p. 11-13

Garzelli, A.. 1985. Miniatura fiorentina del Rinascimento 1440-1525: un primo censimento..Florence:
I, 140, II, fig. 403 (fols. 1v-2r)

Alexander, J.. de la Mare, A.. 1969. The Italian Manuscripts in the Library of Major J.R. Abbey..London: p. 40

Greco, A.. 1970-1976. Vespasiano da Bisticci, Le vite.Florence:
II, p. 33

de la Mare, A. C.. Garzelli, A.. 1985. New Research on Humanistic Scribes in Florence.Florence:
Source Title: Miniatura fiorentina del Rinascimento 1440-1525: Un primo censimento I (1985) : 395-600

p. 530 (App. I, 62 no. 10)

Milanesi, G.. Il viaggio degli ambasciatori fiorentini al re di Francia nel MCCCCLXI descritto da Giovanni di Francesco di Neri Cecchi loro cancelliere..
Source Title: Archivo Storico Italiano Ser III 1.1 (1865) : 1-29
p. 7, 25

Ganz, M.A.. 1982. Donato Acciaiuoli and the Medici: A Strategy for Survival in '400 Florence.
Source Title: Rinascimento 2, ser. 22 () : 33-73

de la Mare, A. C.. Osley, A. S.. 1965. Messer Piero Strozzi, a Florentine Priest and Scribe.London:
Source Title: Calligraphy and Palaeography: Essays Presented to Alfred Fairbank on his Seventieth Birthday() : 55-68
p. 64


Object Number: MS 180
(Manuscripts and Printed Books)
(record id: 166633; input: 2009-02-17; modified: 2016-08-18)


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