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Decorated Letter and Ownership Inscriptions, in Cicero's 'On Friendship'

Decorated Letter and Ownership Inscriptions, in Cicero's 'On Friendship'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1450

Shelfmark: Burney MS 138

Item number: f.2r

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.

The manuscript begins with Cicero's 'On Friendship', which gives an account of the friendship of two statesmen that Cicero heard of from his mentor. It is also is a tribute to his own friendship with Titus Pomponius Atticus, to whom Cicero dedicates the essay. The blank circular area in the lower part of the border was meant for the owner's coat of arms, suggesting that the manuscript was made speculatively for sale. A 16th-century owner, John Stone "cleric", inscribed his name in the blank circle, and a 17th-century owner, William Somerscales (or Somerseales), wrote his name over an erasure in the upper margin. In the 18th century, someone wrote 'Herodotus' in the upper left corner.

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