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2002 articles 1985 articles

Bartolommeo Sanvito and an antique motif

M. L. Evans


A CURIOUS motif appears at the foot of the frontispiece of the celebrated copy of the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius of Caesarea, written and probably illuminated by Bartolommeo Sanvito, in the British Library (Department of Manuscripts, MS. Royal 14.C.III, fol. 2). This consists of a group of three putti, the central one wearing a grotesque Silenus mask, from whom his two colleagues flee in terror, the one on the left stumbling as he runs. It has been pointed out that analogous figures may be found on the frontispiece of another manuscript attributed to Sanvito: a copy of Suetonius in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris (MS. lat. 5814, fol. i). Here, two pairs of putti appear, engaged in combat amongst the piles of classicizing armour which form pilasters on either side of the cartouche which contains the opening lines of text. One of each pair is bareheaded and defending himself with a winged staff from attack by the second putto. The assailant on the right wears a full-face helmet of classical Greek appearance with a horsehair plume. That on the left wears a Silenus mask with a similar plume. Like the mask-wearing putto from the frontispiece of the British Library Eusebius, the latter scares his fellow by poking one hand through the mouth of the mask which covers his face.

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