The magnificent painting in this book was intended as a gift for Robert of Anjou, King of Naples from 1309-43. It illustrates a long poem that includes many references to classical mythology.
In the first image (f.10v) Robert of Anjou is shown in profile against a rich blue background patterned with fleurs-de-lis. Within each of the lilies’ petals, the text of a poem appears. On the opposite page (f.11), surrounding the image of the supplicant personification of Italy, is another poem – a lament in which Italy despairs of the misdeeds done against her.
The Latin text is attributed most often to Convenevole da Prato, a professor of grammar who is known today mostly as the teacher of Petrarch. It presents in effect a petition to the king on behalf of the city of Prato, beseeching him to unite the peninsula under his rule and restore the Papacy to Rome from Avignon, where the Popes had been in residence since 1309.
Ultimately, the plea left Robert unmoved; he lacked such imperial ambitions and Prato’s dream of a unified Italy would take another 500 years to become a reality.
After the figure of Italy there follows a series of similarly monumental personifications (such as Rome and Florence), each of whom turns toward the king and presents his or her own petition.
For example, on the right of the third image (f.22r) is the Judgement of Paris, with the queen of the gods, Juno, crowned in the centre, Pallas Athena, the goddess of wisdom to the left, and Venus, to the right.
Paris indicates his choice of the most beautiful by giving an olive branch to Venus after she bribed him with the promise of Helen’s hand in marriage. Athena’s displeasure is noted not only in her expression but also the text on her dress, which accuses Paris of poor eyesight and Venus of cheating.