In Latin, Ninth century
This fine Carolingian manuscript of the Roman comic poet Plautus, like many others of the Latin classics, was brought to Italy by the bookhunter Poggio Bracciolini, who entered notes in it and copied it, as did Niccolo Niccoli. The latter's copy in turn gave rise to many other manuscripts which were studied, imitated, and performed in Rome and elsewhere. The revival of secular drama in Renaissance Europe largely stems from the discovery of this work. As for this manuscript, Nicholas of Cusa brought it to Rome, where it passed through the library of Cardinal Giordano Orsini into that of the Chapter of Saint Peter's, who gave it to Pope Leo X.
Vat. lat. 3870 fols. 1 verso-2 recto vlib26 INT.08
This print of Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" conveys both something of the artist's power (described by his contemporaries as "terribilita") and something of the new religious mood of the 1530s, as the Catholic Reformation began to mutate into the new, militant Counter-Reformation of the mid-sixteenth century.
Stampe V 15, no. 24 vlib27 INT.70
In Latin, After 1471
Lodovico Lazzarelli, one of the many late fifteenth-century Italian intellectuals who were fascinated by the wisdom they thought to lie concealed in the myths of Greek (and Egyptian) pagans, here describes the cosmos, the planets and the arts in a lovely illuminated manuscript prepared for Federigo da Montefeltro. On display is the devouring image of Saturn, the melancholy planet feared by such astrologers as the Florentine Marsilio Ficino. The earth appears surrounded by angels, and Lazzarelli clearly sees no contradiction between his Christian faith and his fascination with ancient wisdom.
Urb. lat. 717 fol. 13 recto vlib28 INT.17
The synthesis between pagan and Christian revelations took on visible form in the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo's ceiling showed not only Hebrew prophets but pagan prophetesses, the sibyls, such as the one illustrated here. Many curial intellectuals--notably the influential Giles of Viterbo--believed that the sibyls had prophesied the coming of Christ. This print is one of a great many made by artists who hoped to convey something of the power of the Sistine ceiling.
Stampe V 15, no. 23 vlib29 INT.60
In Latin, ca. 1540
Agostino Steucho, a Vatican librarian in the mid-sixteenth century, presented Pope Paul III with this copy of his elaborate treatise "On the Perennial Philosophy." He argued, on the basis of copious evidence exhaustively examined, that the best Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, the ancient Chaldean sages, and the sibyls had all concurred in teaching the central importance of piety and worship. He illustrated this "perennial philosophy" with what he described as "flowers picked from all of philosophy that give off the scent of divinity" and presented this handsome copy of his text to a pope whose concern for the buildings and libraries of Rome he warmly praised.
Vat. lat. 6377 fols. 17 verso-18 recto vlib30 INT.18
In Latin, Late sixteenth century
The liturgical calendar, the breviary, and the liturgy all needed to be pruned and reformed. Guglielmo Sirleto, Vatican librarian, worked on all these projects. He marked up a printed edition of the Roman breviary, introducing radical cuts and changes into long-standard texts. Here he expunges a passage about why Saint Jerome failed to become pope and calls for the addition of material about his library.
Vat. lat. 6283 fol. 156 recto vlib31 INT.20
In Latin, Rome: Typographia Apostolica Vaticana, 1590
Protestants claimed that the Vulgate, or Latin translation of the Bible, often misrepresented the original Hebrew and Greek. A committee was appointed to revised it. When Pope Sixtus V characteristically became impatient with the slow progress, he produced an edition by fiat in 1590, choosing variant readings as brusquely as he straightened the streets of the city. The text rapidly proved an embarrassment and after his death was suppressed, but annotated copies like this one, which belonged to Father (later Cardinal) Toledo, S.J., survive. Two years later, the Sixto-Clementine revision did become the Catholic standard.
Vat. lat. 9509 fol. VII recto vlib32 INT.71
This volume of anti-western Byzantine theological texts should contain 329 written leaves, but it now ends at leaf 220. A collation note on the back of page 220, shown here, states "Sunt in hoc volumine folia scripta 329, videlicet folia scripta cccxxviiii." According to Mercati, the later part of the text was burned by the librarian Sirleto.
Vat. gr. 837 fol. 220 recto vlib33 INT.26
One of Sixtus's most ambitious projects was to move the enormous Vatican obelisk to its present position in front of Saint Peter's. Though Michelangelo refused this task ("What if it breaks?" he asked), Domenico Fontana carried it out. The formal procession that accompanied the erection, exorcism, and rededication of the Vatican obelisk in 1587 is commemorated here.
Stamp. Barb. O VIII 40, plate B vlib34 INT.58