[Vita di Santa Chiari vergine].
Detail: St. Clare
di Santa Chiara vergine
Ugolino Verino. Vita di Santa Chiara vergine. Italian. Florence,
Illuminated manuscript on parchment. 39 leaves. 21 x 13 cm.
Single column of 19 lines. Textblock: 14 x 8.5 cm.
Bound in contemporary blind-tooled leather. Bridwell MS 4.
The Vita di Santa Chiara vergine was hand written by the author,
Ugolino Verino (1438-1516), who presented it to the sisters at the
Convento di Santa Chiara Novella in Florence in 1496. The text is a rare vernacular Italian biography of St. Clare of
Assisi (1194-1253), follower of St. Francis and founder of the
Franciscan convents of the “Poor Clares.” Verino’s book was cited in
Lorenzo Bartolozzi’s sixteenth-century biography of the author
(Florence, Codex Ricciardiano 910), but prior to its modern
rediscovery, the text was believed to have been lost to the
The manuscript presumably remained at Santa Chiara Novella until the
convent was dissolved in 1808. It was probably still in Florence
when it was acquired by the fifth Lord Vernon of Sudbury
(1803-1866), the noted scholar and editor of the works by that
city’s greatest poet, Dante Alighieri. Lord Vernon’s library was
sold at Sotheby’s in 1918, where the manuscript was purchased by
Charles H. St John Hornby (1867-1946), the founder of the Ashendene
Press. Hornby did not immediately recognize the historical
significance of the manuscript, but in 1921, prompted by the eminent
Franciscan scholar Walter Seton, he decided to publish the Vita di
Santa Chiara vergine in a fine limited edition, complete with
Seton’s scholarly notes.
In 1946, Major John Roland Abbey (1896-1969) purchased the Verino
manuscript along with 28 other books from the late Hornby’s
collection to form the core of what became an outstanding collection
of Italian Renaissance manuscripts. After Major Abbey’s death in
1969, it passed quietly to the dealer Harry Levinson in California
and thence to Bridwell Library. Thus, the manuscript now complements
the library’s great Hornby Ashendene Collection, which consists of
complete sets of the books produced by the press as well as the
founder’s archives, working proofs, correspondence, and the sturdy
hand press upon which he printed the Ashendene books.
The opening page of the manuscript is richly decorated in early
Florentine Renaissance style. Borders of colorful flowers and gold
fill the left margin and the bottom of the page, where a painted
roundel bears the charming image of St. Clare.
The Convento di Santa Chiara Novella was founded in 1452, and was
decorated by the famous Renaissance artists Pietro Perugino and
Giuliano da Sangallo. Perugino’s altarpiece inspired Giorgio Vasari
(Lives of the Artists, 1550) to tell the story of how the poor nuns
refused to sell the painting even for three times what it had cost
Eric M. White
Biography of St. Clare
Biography of Ugolino Verino
Variations between the printed Ashendene edition and the
manuscript appear beside the
image of folio 1r.
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