Latin translation by Cristoforo Persona, Illuminated by Matteo Felice, Dedication copy for Sixtus IV, Fifteenth century
The growing knowledge of Greek in the Latin West was not only a boon to the study of ancient Greek authors, but also led to a new interest in the literary scholarship of Byzantium. The works of Theophylact of Euboea, an eleventh-century Byzantine exegete who had studied with the Platonist Michael Psellus, were especially welcome in the West owing to his conciliatory position on the Schism--Theophylact defended the Roman Catholic position against Greek intransigence on a number of key theological issues. In the fifteenth century his works were translated into Latin by Christoforo Persona, a native of Rome who had studied in Greece, probably under Gemistus Pletho, and had accompanied the Greek Orthodox delegation as an interpreter to the Council of Union in 1437/38. Persona later became the head of the Williamite order in Rome and papal librarian under Sixtus IV. The illumination by Matteo Felice shows Persona presenting his translation to Sixtus IV.
Vat. lat. 263 fol. 1 recto human09 JH.02
Latin translation by George Trebizond, Dedication copy for Nicolas V, Rome, 1448
Renaissance humanists not only sought out and translated works of pagan Greek antiquity, they were equally concerned about making the Greek writings of the Fathers of the Church available in the West. The humanists of the papal court had a special interest in the revival of Christian antiquity--command of the ancient Greek sources of Christian doctrine would help solidify the papal claim to headship over Greek as well as Latin Christendom. This translation of the great Christian preacher Chrysostom (ca. 347- 407) was the work of the learned, but wildly eccentric, George Trebizond of Crete. A convert to Roman Catholicism, Trebizond came to believe himself a prophet, and identified Cardinal Bessarion as the secret enemy of Latin Christendom, responsible for spreading Platonism and other forms of Orthodox devilry to the West. In his more lucid moments Trebizond translated an extraordinary number of pagan and Christian Greek writings for a succession of popes. In the scene depicted here, Trebizond presents his translation to Nicolas V; the bearded cardinal is Bessarion.
Vat. lat. 385 fol. 121 recto human10 JH.03
In Latin, Copied by Bartolomeo San Vito for Bernardo Bembo, 1471-84
Another great book collector of the fifteenth century was Bernardo Bembo, Venetian diplomat and patrician, the father of the more famous Pietro Bembo. A number of Bembo's manuscripts were written by Bartolomeo San Vito, who is widely held to be the finest scribe of the Renaissance. San Vito was born in Padua and worked in Mantua, Rome, and Naples before returning to his native city. He worked closely with his illuminator, a disciple of Mantegna, to create a new style of frontispiece. Florentine humanists in the earlier part of the century had revived the "white-vine stem" form of decoration which they thought to be ancient but in fact was twelfth-century and Tuscan. The Paduan/Mantuan school of illuminators, working closely with antiquaries such as Fra Giocondo of Verona, Felice Feliciano, and the artist Mantegna, evolved a new, more classical style. This style had no direct ancient models, but was a pastiche of antique decorative elements, such as urns, medallions, garlands and putti. Its major innovations were the introduction of capital letters modelled on ancient inscriptions (in place of the modified Gothic capitals employed by early Tuscan humanists) and the treatment of the title page as though it were an inscribed stone monument or architectural gateway into the book--features which became common in the frontispieces of sixteenth-century printed books. This manuscript was later owned by Pope Julius II, whose coat of arms was painted over that of Bembo.
Vat. lat. 1835 fol. 1 recto human11 JH.05
In Latin, Autograph, Rome, Sixteenth century
Pietro Bembo, writer, scholar, and collector, was among the most eminent and influential literary men of the sixteenth century. He served as secretary to Pope Leo X (1513-1521) and in 1539 became a cardinal. His elegant Ciceronian Latin set the standard for learned and diplomatic correspondence throughout Europe. His autograph letters, such as the one on display, provide a good sample of "chancery italic," a script developed by Roman humanists in the late fifteenth century from the humanist cursive minuscule invented by the Florentine humanist Niccolo Niccoli in the 1420s. Calligraphic forms of chancery Italic were popularized by such famous Roman writing masters as Ludovico Arrighi and Giovambattista Palatino in the early sixteenth century. By the seventeenth century the script was being taught to schoolchildren everywhere in Europe, except Germany.
Vat. lat. 3364 fol. 1 recto human12 JH.07
In Latin, Autograph, Early sixteenth century
Even the liturgy of the church responded to the spread of classicism in the fifteenth century. The traditional hymns, readings, and homilies of the medieval church began to look rude and old-fashioned, out of touch with modern literary taste. A number of Roman humanists obligingly rewrote liturgies in the new, classical style favored by Renaissance popes. Others delivered homilies modelled on the speeches of the great classical orators rather than on traditional sermons. In this example, the humanist and papal bureaucrat Raffaele Maffei, "il Volterrano," recast traditional hymns to San Vittorio (the patron saint of his home town, Volterra) in various Horatian meters, adding a biography of the saint in Ciceronian Latin.
Ottob. lat. 2377 fols. 252 verso-253 recto human13 JH.16
In Latin, London, (Dedication copy for Leo X), 1521
With the spread of the Reformation in the early sixteenth century, Roman humanists found a new use for their rhetorical and literary skills. Humanists in both Catholic and Protestant camps exchanged broadsides, treatises, and invectives supporting or condemning Luther's proposed reforms. Probably the most famous humanist composition defending the church was ascribed, ironically enough, to King Henry VIII of England, who would later break with Rome and declare himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Though the king himself had had something of a humanist education, it is believed that the work was ghost-written by a committee of humanists and theologians, including Sir Thomas More. This book, probably the dedication copy, is printed on parchment with illumination added by hand over a woodcut frontispiece.
Stamp. Membr. III 1 fol.  recto human14 JH.24