Item #65438 Legenda aurea. Jacobus de VORAGINE.
Legenda aurea
Legenda aurea
Legenda aurea

An Early Copy of the Most Popular Dominican Work, with a Provenance from a Great Dominican Convent

Legenda aurea.

Italy (Venice?), 1300.

Italy (Venice?): 1300.

Illuminated manuscript on vellum. Small quarto (8 x 5 9/16 inches; 203 x 142 mm.). 281 leaves, plus one blank leaf at front and two blank leaves at end (fols. 279 and 281 apparently conjoint with two blank vellum leaves, fol. 280 on a stub between the foliated leaves). Apparently complete. Two columns of thirty-four lines. Written by two Italian scribes in black ink in gothic bookhands between four verticals and thirty-five horizontals ruled in faint brown, the verticals extending across the margins. Justification: 5 1/4 x 3 7/8 inches; 133 x 98 mm. Faint early ink foliation. Horizontal catchwords within ink frames in lower right margin of final versos. Pricking along the upper edges. Rubrics in red, paragraph marks alternately of red or blue, alternately red or blue one-line initials for the list of contents (fols. 1v-2), numerous two-line initials alternately in red flourished with blue or blue flourished with red, with penwork usually extending for the height of the text column, opening six-line historiated initial showing a tonsured cleric kneeling before the seated Virgin with Child against a background of burnished gold, accompanied by a cusped border with leaf terminals where a tree separates a stag from a pursuing hound. Some neat annotations and corrections in the margins with a few pointing hands.

Nineteenth-century limp vellum, with yapp edges. Spine lettered in gilt. Opening rubric and historiated initial slightly rubbed. Marginal staining on edges of some leaves, small cuts or tears to margins of some leaves, some natural vellum flaws. Housed in a full morocco clamshell.


Prologue, opening: "Universum tempus presentis" (fol. 1r and v); List of Contents (fols. 1v-2); sixtyfive chapters, from "de adventu," opening" Adventus domini per quattuor septimanas" (fol. 2), to "de dedicatione ecclesie," ending "per secula seculorum Amen" (fols. 275v-281v).

Jacobus de Voragine, who became a Dominican in 1244 and died in 1298, after six years as bishop of Genoa, wrote various works of which the Golden Legend, perhaps of the 1260s, was by far the most successful. A compilation to accompany the major feasts in the church calendar, the Golden Legend details the lives and miracles of saints and explicates events in the lives of Christ and the Virgin, ordered according to the liturgical year. It must have been the most widely consulted authority on these matters and is consequently an invaluable insight into what was generally known by writers, artists, and their patrons. About a thousand manuscripts survive, in the original Latin and in translation, and about a hundred printed editions had appeared before the sixteenth century. The original text of 176 chapters was expanded over the years with updatings and with feasts specific to certain localities.

This manuscript, which has a limited selection of feasts and shows little evidence of later accretions, was probably written towards 1300. Each of the sixty-five chapters and the etymological discussions that precede them is introduced by a flourished initial. Its subsequent ownership by a Dominican who left it to his first convent indicates that the Golden Legend was still fulfilling its probable original function of assisting the Dominicans in their preaching mission.


The historiated initial, flourished initials, and border decoration are northern French or south Netherlandish in character. The border motifs on f. 1 are very close, for instance, to those in a copy of Thomas Aquinas's Summa given to the Flemish abbey of Ter Doest ca. 1280-1290 (Bruges, Staatsbib. Ms 199: Vlaamse Kunst op Perkament, Bruges, Gruuthusemuseum (1981). The decoration was presumably executed by an illuminator who had travelled to Italy. A parallel case is presented by the northern French or Flemish illuminator whose hand has been detected in Neapolitan manuscripts of ca. 1330 (Dix siecles d'enluminure italienne, BnF, 1984, pp. 73-74) and illuminators from Ypres are known to have worked in Naples at around this date. Combining Italian script and northern illumination, the book is an intriguing reminder of the mobility of book craftsmen.


1. Perhaps made for the tonsured cleric seen in the opening initial.

2. Nicolaus Augustus de Venetiis: record of bequest to SS Giovanni e Paolo, Venice, on verso of first parchment leaf; a similar note on the recto of the penultimate vellum leaf, but as "N augustus," and with the added prayer "requiescat in pace." Nicolaus entered the Dominican Order at the convent of SS Giovanni e Paolo, received his licentiate from Bologna University in 1413, and taught in Padua and Bologna. In 1438, he was appointed to the bishopric of Tricarico in southern Italy; he wrote a summary of the issues discussed at the Council of Florence between the Greek and Roman churches and died in Rome in 1446 (T. Kaeppeli and E. Panelli, Scriptori Ordinis Praedicatorum Medii Aevi, IV, 1993, pp. 202-203).

3. Dominican Convent SS Giovanni et Paolo, Venice: by the late fifteenth century their library was of sufficient importance to be the intended recipient of Cardinal Bessarion's collection of Greek and Latin texts. Catalogues were published between 1770 and 1784, in which this Golden Legend is cod. 576, with the note of the legacy transcribed (D.M. Berardelli, Nuova Raccolta d'Opuscoli scientifici e filologici, t. 32-33, 35, 37-40, 1770, 1778-1780, 1782-1784, t. 39, p. 57). At least seventeen of their manuscripts have been identified (T. Kaeppeli, 'Antiche biblioteche domenicane in Italia,' Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum, XXXVI, 1966, pp. 5-80, pp. 70-72). The Convent was suppressed by the Napoleonic regime in the first decade of the nineteenth century.

4. Baron Charles Alexander de Cosson (b. 1846): his armorial bookplate ("Ex libris Caroli Alecandri de Cosson") on front pastedown, note on first paper leaf recording the provenance from SS Giovanni e Paolo and purchase in 1876, together with four other manuscripts with the same binding from the same source (see lots 28 and 78 in the Foyle catalogue). Of an emigre family from Guyenne, baron de Cosson was an explorer in Egypt and Abyssinia, archaeologist and antiquary. He had a collection of arms and armor in his house in Chertsey and in 1880 organized an exhibition of arms and armor with William Burges.

5. Baron Claude Augustin de Cosson, his eldest son (b. 1877): who pursued a career in the Egyptian service before retiring to Florence. Lot 33, Sotheby's 27 March 1950, Property of the late Baron CA. de Cosson by whom they were purchased in Italy, excerpt from the catalogue paste on the first paper leaf. Purchased by William Foyle, who also purchased a Book of Hours from the Cosson Collection (see lot 50).

HBS 65438.


Price: $125,000.00

Item #65438