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A Decorated Initial in Cicero's 'On Old Age'

A Decorated Initial in Cicero's 'On Old Age'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1450

Shelfmark: Burney MS 138

Item number: f.31r

Length: 19.7

Width: 12.5

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

Famed for his skills as an orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) was a Roman lawyer and politician whose essays on friendship and old age are still considered models of writing style. His writings were among those highly admired by statesmen and intellectuals in the early Italian Renaissance of the 15th century. This manuscript, which contains three of Cicero's essays, was copied by an Italian scribe in Florence--thought to be Franciscus Benini Niccolai de Radolfinis--and decorated with ornament based on classical designs. The clear, rounded letter forms are hallmarks of the Italian Renaissance style of handwriting that is called 'humanistic' or 'antique'. This manuscript belonged to Lincoln College, Oxford, possibly given to the college by the founder's nephew, Robert Flemmyng (died 1483), who annotated it.

'De Senectute' or 'On Old Age' begins in this manuscript with its first letter decorated with vine and leaf designs based on classical ornament. The decoration is kept to a minimum, not obstructing the clear and dignified handwriting. Cicero's essay on old age is considered an important example of his application of ancient Greek philosophy to daily experience.

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