The Flore de virtu e de costumi (‘Flowers of Virtue and of Manners’) is an Italian work on virtues and vices that was composed in the early 14th century by a friar named Tomasso. It consists of 35 chapters, each of which discusses a particular virtue or a vice by drawing a comparison with an animal, citing Classical and medieval authors for moral explanations, and providing an exemplum (or story) that illustrates the chapter’s moral point.
The Fiore di virtù was extremely popular in late medieval Italy, as it was often used for the moral instruction of children. The work survives in more than 100 manuscripts from the medieval period. It was also translated into Catalan, French and Spanish.
One highly illuminated copy made in the 2nd quarter of the 15th century features many colourful illustrations of legendary beasts – including the phoenix, the basilisk and the unicorn (image no. 1) − and animals from the natural world. The vice of Anger (Ira), for example, is illustrated with the fable of the bear and the bees. The bear attempts to take honey from a beehive but is attacked and stung in its eyes by bees (image no. 2). In its rage, the bear turns its attention to killing its attackers. Other bees then come to sting the bear, which prompts him to chase them instead of the first swarm. In doing so, the bear is constantly chasing different bees but never successfully catches any of them. The text emphasises the moral of the story by citing authorities who note that anger consumes and ruins one’s life.
- Article by:
- Alixe Bovey
Men with dogs’ heads, creatures with giant feet, griffins, sirens and hellish demons can all be found in the illustrated pages of medieval manuscripts. Dr Alixe Bovey delves into the symbolic meaning of a variety of monsters to understand what they can teach us about life and belief in the Middle Ages.