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2002 articles 1991 articles

From copy to facsimile: a millennium of studying the Vatican Vergil

David H. Wright


BOOKS do have their fate. When it was produced in Rome sometime around A.D. 400, presumably for a wealthy pagan aristocrat of the old school, the manuscript we know as the Vatican Vergil (Vat. lat. 3225) was a nice book for a gentleman's library, but not an extraordinary artistic accomplishment. It consisted of about 440 folios of fine parchment, but included some leaves with minor defects. The pages were about 24 cm. high and 21 cm. wide (the height of this Jouryial but one inch wider), much smaller than the slightly later classical books we know as the Codex Romanus of Vergil (about 35 by 33-5 cm.) or the Codex Augusteus of Vergil (about 42 by 35 cm.), two very pretentious coffee-table books. The text was written by a good scribe in a fluent version of Rustic capitals, the script expected for such a book, but it was not free of errors and careless omissions. It was illustrated with about 280 framed paintings inserted in the text at the appropriate places, a modest undertaking by comparison with the slightly later Greek Christian manuscript known as the Cotton Genesis, which had about 360 illustrations for only one book of the Bible.

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