In Latin, Ninth century
The "Historia Augusta" is an amusing collection of lives of the Roman emperors written in the fourth century A.D. The texts purport to be the work of six distinct historians, but were composed, according to most modern scholars, by a single forger. They describe many curious details of court life and provide apparent quotations from original documents, which interested many medieval and Renaissance scholars. One of the many remarkable qualities of the Vatican's manuscripts is the richness of the marginal notes in which generations of scholars discussed and evaluated their content. In the section displayed here, Petrarch calls attention in a marginal note to one of the quoted documents.
Pal. lat. 899 fols. 209 verso-210 recto vlib20 INT.09
In Latin, Fifth or sixth century
This spectacular manuscript, written in Italy in a large rustic hand, may have been completed before the fall of the Roman empire, and thus is physically as well as intellectually part of the classical heritage preserved in the Vatican (to which it came as booty after Catholic armies sacked the Protestant stronghold at Heidelberg in 1623). It may have been preserved for some time at the Carolingian court, a vital center for classical studies in the early Middle Ages, and certainly it was studied and copied actively by Carolingian scholars. It came to rest at Lorsch by sometime in the ninth century.
Pal. lat. 1631 fol. 15 verso vlib21 INT.10
In Latin, ca. 1450
Pope Nicholas V, the real founder of the Vatican Library, also supported many scholarly enterprises. This fine presentation copy of Tortelli's critical Latin lexicon praises the pope lavishly, not only for his learning but also for his patronage of scholars, his support of translations from the Greek, and his project to create a great library, which Tortelli describes as "the most splendid that has ever existed."
Vat. lat. 5229 fol. 1 recto vlib22 INT.14
In Latin, ca. 1474
Bartolomeo Platina, librarian under Sixtus IV, compiled this set of sometimes quite critical biographies of the popes. This presentation copy of Platina's work contains corrections in his hand and a splendid miniature, shown here, of his and the library's patron, Sixtus IV. The scribe was Bartolomeo San Vito.
Vat. lat. 2044 fols. 2 verso-3 recto vlib23 INT.15
In Latin, 1507
Giovanni Nagonio, a papal functionary who wrote celebratory verses like these for many European monarchs, here celebrates the triumphal entry of Julius II into Rome after his victory over the Bolognese. Combining Roman and papal imagery, the miniature shows Julius next to his nephew, Francesco Maria della Rovere, who wears golden armor. The Bolognese appear, presumably, as the gloomy barbarians in chains who accompany his float. On the facing page one sees a self-satisfied pontiff, ringed by short celebratory texts. Nagonio's poems, which fill the rest of the book, reach a self-parodic level of flattery.
Vat. lat. 1682 fols. 8 verso-9 recto vlib24 INT.16
Lossi reprint, 1773
This immense print shows the ancient city not, as Pietro del Massaio had, as a bare stage decorated by the great ruins and buildings that survived into modern times (see Vat. lat. 5699 (arch21)), but as a living community, its public spaces, columns, and colonnades separated by block on block of private residences, which Ligorio recreated from his knowledge of ancient reliefs.
Stamp. geogr. I 169 vlib25 TG.50
NOTE: The picture shown above is only one part of a 12-part map. You can examine the entire map by going to the Map Room.