Showing posts with label Vatican Library. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vatican Library. Show all posts

November 20, 2014

Judge Arthur Tompkins writes on "The Pope's personal library" in Britain's Guardian

ARCA lecturer Judge Arthur Tompkins recently published in the Guardian a lengthy contribution about his 2011 visit to the Vatican Library (the Guardian piece is an edited version of a couple of posts previously published on the ARCA blog: here for Part One, here for Part Two, and here for Part Three).

Judge Tompkins describes the Pope's personal library, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, and his search for two manuscripts: Pal. Lat. 50, the Codex Aureus of Losch and MS Pal. Lat. 1071 for "De Art Venandi Com Avibus" literally "The Hunting of Birds", a Latin treatise on ornithology and falconry.

October 19, 2011

The Collecting History of Stolen Art: Hercules and his son Telephos in the Chiaramont Museum inside the Vatican

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, 
ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Updated August 19, 2013

Even the Roman general Pompey wanted a souvenir when he defeated Mithradates VI of Pontus and brought the Kingdom of Armenia into the Roman Empire.

In The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates: Rome's Deadliest Enemy (Princeton University Press, 2009), Adrienne Mayor has a photo of Hercules and his son Telephus in the Chiaramonti Museum at the Vatican. This sculpture shows Hercules in a lion-skin cape holding an infant. Ms. Mayor writes: "Recent analysis of portraiture in contemporary coins and sculpture suggests that the model for the little boy was none other than Mithradates!"


Heracles with infant Telephos
Pompey the Great recognized the likeness of the baby Telephus to Mithradates and took it to Rome after defeating Mithradates in 63 BC (Mayor):  "Pompey installed this Hercules statue in his Theater on the Field of Mars in Rome.  The statue was discovered in 1507 in Campo dei Fiori, near the ruins of Pompey's Theater."

The 19th century Chiaramonti Museum, one of the buildings known as the Vatican Museum set up more than 500 years ago.

In August 2013, when I revisited this subject, I found an image of the sculpture of "Heracles with infant Telephos" on the website of the Chiaramonti Museum. When I first wrote about this work in 2011 after reading Ms. Mayor's biography of Mithradates  on the sculpture of "Heracles with infant Telephos", the Chiaramonti had no such entry. The Chiaramonti writes that "Heracles with infant Telephos" is a second century AD copy.

Heracles with infant Telephos
Cat. 1314
This statue, which was discovered in Rome in the vicinity of Campo de' Fiori, was one of the first sculptures to come into the Vatican collections. Pope Julius II (1503-1573) exhibited it in the Courtyard of the Statues in the Belvedere. The presence of Heracles, in fact, leads us back to the mythological origins of Rome, and alludes in particular to the victory of the Romans over the tribes of ancient Latium. The god Heracles, with his club and lion skin, holds his son Telephos in his arms. Telephos is the son born to Heracles by the priestess Auge who was forced to abandon the child in the mountains of Arcadia, where he was nourished by a doe until he was rescued by his father.

Telephos became King of Mysia and one of the leading characters in a rich and complex mythology that sees him involved in the Greek expedition against Troy. This statue is a second century A.D. copy, probably of a Late Hellenistic original.

July 12, 2011

Judge Arthur Tompkins on The Codex Aureus of Lorsch and the De Arte Venandi in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Part III)

by Judge Arthur Tompkins, ARCA Lecturer and blog contributor

It turned out to be a much smaller, slimmer volume that the Codex Aureus. But it too is missing the coat of arms and the inscription! Instead, there appears on the opening leaf the commonly encountered oval and/or circular "Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana" stamps, and the handwritten pencil inscription “Facs Bav Pal. Lat. 1071 [1969.2] Concs."

This version is a copy of the original manuscript by Frederick II, which was lost in 1248 during a siege of Parma. Copies of the original exist in two-volume and six-volume versions – the Vatican’s copy is in the former category.

The facsimiles of the opening leaves show clearly been reasonable extensive damage around the edges. All the pages are written in dense, small, text, in two columns ending about two thirds down each page, and each block of text on each page is surrounded by a profusion of pictures of birds of all kinds, flying, walking, wading, and occasionally swimming. Every now and then a human falconer or a hunter appears, but infrequently in the first section of the volume. A few of the illustrations of birds have handwritten labels appended to them (by son Manfred?). There are is one picture of two dogs, which look like greyhounds, savaging a fallen deer .

Towards the back of the volume, more numerous falconers appear, one with a startlingly red hat on, and others with similarly coloured red tunics, showing the correct way to carry birds, to hold them in preparation for flight, to secure them to their perches or on transportable field stands.

In one memorable picture, a falconer is shown having discarded his clothes in a heap, and is taking a naked dip in a pond (retaining his hat, presumably for modesty’s sake) as he is watched by two bemused ducks.

There are a few uncoloured line drawings, some showing how to bath a falcon in a small basin.

The back inside cover of the volume bears the printed inscription (in German as well as English):

First edition 1000 copies.
Binding: Graphic K.G. – Graz – Printed n Austria
Text and plates: Akademische Druck – u. Verlagsanstalt – Graz
And on a separate sticker at the top of the inside cover, the information:
Facs.Bav. Pal.lat1071[1969:1-2]. Cons. (1969:2)
Friedrich II imperatore del Sacro romano impero e re di Sicilia, 1194-1250
De arte venandi cum avibus, ms, pal, lat 1071
Bibkioteca apostolica vaticana.
Pubblicazione: 1969
After completing my inspection of my second volume, but before I returned it and perforce ended my visit, I went on a slightly nervous wander. I was interested to see if anyone would accost me, arrest me, and forcibly remove me from the premises and the City State. It turns out that I had been working in one of two connected rooms, labelled Sala Manoscritti 1 and 2, and I was able, without being apprehended or stopped, to walk elsewhere in the complex of interlinked reading rooms. The Manuscripts Reading Room was by far the most fully occupied. For most of the time I was there, there were only a handful of spare seats.

Next to this, is a Room referred to in the Rules as the Inventory room. The Rules told me that it was forbidden to take manuscripts out of my room into this adjacent, much less stylish and indeed almost blandly functional, and in it the tables were mostly unoccupied.

The Sale Leonine
Adjacent to these two rooms, and connected to it by the entrance foyer containing a large rococo gilded table with a marble top, was a far longer and grander reading room, about three or four times the length of the one I had been in, containing many more multiple-seat reading tables, with around its walls tall shelves of printed books and, in a neighbouring narrow area running the length of the main room, banks of card catalogues. This room overlooked the Cortile de Belvedere, through which I had walked to gain my initial entry. This room is called the Sale Leonine, and features a significantly frescoed ceiling, with many Popes’ names featuring.

During my walks, executed with pencil in hand, and with a studious expression on my face, I spotted on a wall a floor plan which revealed that manuscripts with the shelf mark "Palatinato" (referring to the books taken from the Bibliotheca Palatina) were only available in the main Manuscript Reading Room, on request. The same floor plan also revealed that, down some stairs and off somewhere else there existed a space invitingly labelled with the word, “Bar”. More of that in a moment. But, also on the same floor plan, there appears, in the bottom right corner in an otherwise blank area, the words "Archivo Segreto” – much like old maps used to have the words, “There be dragons…”. Equally if not more inviting, but my Rules told me that “in order to access the Secret Archives from the Library, or visa versa, the main entrance of each of the two Institutions must be used.” So I guess that I best not try to go there ….

And indeed it turns out that the Vatican Library has a Bar. Who would have thought? After checking with the same helpful librarian who had, upon my arrival steered me safely in the direction of the Manuscript Reading Room, that I would not set off any alarms or be locked forever on the outside, I discovered that one exits into a large internal Courtyard (Cortile della Biblioteca), crosses this, (in the by no fiercely hot sun), and ascends a narrow, almost hidden staircase, into a small room which seems to have been created out of a ruined apse of a Romanesque church, with the ruined walls and partially broken semi-circular apse, with rough niches, still very much in evidence. Opposite the broken apse was a small counter, an automated coffee machine, and a couple of hot plates for heating pre-prepared paninis. Here, I had my lunch – a tepid coffee served in a flimsy plastic cup, and a dry, reheated ham and cheese Panini. But hey, it was my Vatican Library lunch …!

And so my visit to the Vatican library drew to a close. I returned my second volume, gathered my belongings and, reversing the process I had followed upon arrival and with a backward glance of regret and longing, I quit the Vatican Library. Happily, I get to keep my magnetised swipe card.

A most memorable occasion in pretty much every respect. Perhaps on a return visit I will get to see the original manuscripts, presumably under even stricter supervision, and solve the mystery of the missing coat of arms and inscription.

July 11, 2011

Judge Arthur Tompkins on The Codex Aureus of Lorsch and the De Arte Venandi in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Part II)

by Judge Arthur Tompkins, ARCA Instructor and blog contributor

The Manuscripts Reading Room
The Vatican Library’s main Manuscripts Reading Room is a light and airy room about 8 metres wide, by about 22 metres long, with beige coloured, plastered walls, a high, vaulted ceiling complete with frescoed oval medallion in its centre, three large windows set into slightly recessed arches on one wall, (looking out
onto a grassed garden area, the Cortile della Bibliotheca), and four more or less corresponding niches on the opposite wall. One of the niches has a bust of Father Ehrle, who seemingly lived from 1845 – 1934 (a past and revered Librarian, perhaps?), and three full-length, female statues. Opposite the entrance door, at one end, is a high desk running most of the width of the room, in front of two large wooden cabinets fitted with interior metal shelves, for returned volumes. Librarians hover, ready to assist, in hushed tones.

On the wall above the entrance door hang portraits of Cardinal Scipionne Cobelluzzi (1618-1626) and Francesco Barberini (1626-1633). Above the main desk there is a bronze bust of “PIO XI PONT MAX”, surmounted by a large crucifix with Christ that looks somewhat similar to the one that hangs in Santa Maria Della Croce in Florence. Above a desk to the left of the entrance door, which remained unoccupied during my stay, hangs a large portrait of an unnamed, seated cardinal.

The Reading Room’s procedure requires initial registration at the desk, which electronically reveals the number of the locker you have been allocated downstairs. Readers are required to write (in pencil, of course, and in block capital letters only) their surname next to the locker number on a pre-printed sheet, and then also to enter the number of the seat they have chosen for the day – in my case #52, at the back right corner of the room, so as to afford me the good view of my fellow readers. An informal head count reveals that the room can accommodate 57 readers – 30 seated at tables of three each, on the right side, and 27 at nine corresponding tables on the left, below the windows.

Each reading space is equipped with a small lectern-like stand for the manuscript being study, with elongated wooden pegs to hold the pages of the manuscript open, and a printed card reminding one, in case you have forgotten, that, among other prohibitions, it is forbidden to use an ink pen of any type, and that only an erasable lead pencil or a personal computer may be used.

I was told that both my requested manuscripts were available to me only in facsimile (I knew that from an earlier email from Dr. Ciminella) but one, it seems was not within easy reach. So I first received the facsimile of the Codex Aureus. A facsimile of the Codex, incidentally, was given by Pope Benedict to Queen Elizabeth of England on 16 September 2010 (although the facsimile he gifted was of the whole work, and included copies of the famous front and back covers, torn off in Heidelberg and still separated from the body of the manuscript), in return for which the Queen gave His Holiness a series of Hans Holbein prints from her collection.

Surprisingly, the facsimile is incomplete. In particular, it omits from the front leaf of the volume is the Coat of Arms of the Bavarian House of Wittelbach, and the Latin inscription:
"Sum de bibliotheca quam Heidelberga capta Spolium fecit et papae GREGORIO XV trophaeum misit Maximiliianus utriusque bauariae Dux &c S
R I Achidapifer et Princeps Elector."
Which translates, more or less, to:

"I am from the Library which, after the capture of Heidelberg, Maximilian, Duke of Bavaria … took as spoil and sent as a trophy to Pope Gregory XV."

The Wittelbach coat of arms, and the inscription, were precisely what I had come to see. Perhaps, in preparing the facsimile, a choice had been made not to include a record, plain to anyone with eyes to see and read, of the taking of the Codex by the army of the Catholic League following the fall of Heidelberg in 1621, during the opening years of the Thirty Years’ War?

Another, less sinister, explanation is perhaps that, given that the original codex was torn in two, and its front and back covers removed, in Heidelberg (for ease of transportation) then the coat of arms and inscription might appear in the missing bits. But that is unlikely, as the desecrating of the manuscript happened, as I understand it, in Heidelberg prior to transportation over the Alps to the Vatican, so that the inscriptions, which were most likely inserted into all the Palatinato volumes, happened after their arrival in Rome.

So where are they? And was there anything else to see which might assist?

Instead of the Coat of Arms and the inscription, the front leaves of the volume are suspiciously blank, except for the pencilled notation “Facs. Bav Pal. Lat 50 [2000] [1B) Cms.” Following these blank opening pages, the first page is resplendent with gloriously golden text, set out in two columns on each page, and bordered with both a plain outer gold border and a broader (about 1cm wide) inner coloured border, which varies in colour and patterning from page to page.

Several pages in, there appears a comparative table, with four decorated columns headed MATTHEVS, MARCUS, LUCAS, and JOHANNIS - which are a bit of a giveaway, although the following pages sometimes omit one or other of the names. Then there begins what the gospel of Matthew – given both that the figure depicted in glorious colour on the opening page is strikingly similar to the three St. Matthew Caravaggios I saw a few days ago in. And then there is the word MATHEUM appearing at the top of the following pages, which fairly compelling, I think. The Christ in Majesty illumination appears a dozen or so leaves after that.

The next major illumination is of an apostle surmounted by a horned bull, so I am guessing this is Luke (again, assisted in my scholarly deductive reasoning by the word LUCAM that appears every regularly at the top of the following pages…).

Further on through the volume is an apostle pictured with a large bird above him, and given the helpful word JOHANNON in the now familiar position on the following pages, this is John.

The last 16 pages of the volume, after a page which ends with the words "Explicit Evangelium Secondum Jonhannem", are still in gold lettering, but now in lowercase, rather than capitals, with interspersed red sub headings, red capital letters at the beginning of most paragraphs, and no borders. I have no idea what they are. I am sure others know full well.

The last page is a half page of modern printed German text, very obviously not written in the 8th century, and containing at its base the notation: ISBN 3-85672-066-9.

Thus ends my examination of the Codes Aureus of Lorsch. Returning it to the care of the librarian, I went now in search of the De Arte Venandi…

Judge Tompkin's adventures in the Vatican Library to be continued tomorrow.

July 10, 2011

Judge Arthur Tompkins on The Codex Aureus of Lorsch and the De Arte Venandi in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Part I)

The Sistine Hall of the Vatican Library
by Judge Arthur Tompkins

The Pope's personal library - Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana – was founded, in accordance with the direction of Pope Nicholas V, by Pope Sixtus IV in 1475. For the first little while (a few centuries) it was accessible only to His Holiness, and "eminent scholars". But in 1883 it was opened to all "qualified readers", by Pope Leo XIII, who made the admissions process less taxing, and also opened the Secret Archives to appropriately qualified readers.


The Library is not formally part of the Church, but stands alongside the Roman Curia, and "provides useful and necessary services to the Supreme Pontiff, to the Curia and to the Universal Church, in association with the Holy See." It is the personal and inalienable property of the Pontiff and, as such, it is not a public institution.

Admission is by advance approval only (unless, presumably, you are the Pope), and is available to "qualified researchers and scholars, and learned persons known for their writing and scholarly publications”, who must provide a letter of introduction from their home institution, certified proof of their home address, and a formal identification document (e.g. passport).

All of this is by way of preamble, to explain why, at 8.30 a.m. on a very sunny Thursday in early July, I was having coffee and breakfast in a small cafe close by Ponte d'Angelo, resplendent in the early morning sun with Bernini's towering sculptures standing resolute under the stern gaze of the hulking pile that is Castel Sant’Angelo. I was waiting until the Library's admissions office opened, and I had my documents ready to flourish at (I was secretly hoping) a resplendently uniformed Swiss Guard, thus to gain admission to the Vatican City through Porta Santa Anna, and from there on into the Library.

I had come to inspect two manuscripts, both originally part of the Bibliotheca Palatina, the Library of the Princes of the Palatine founded in the 1430s by the Elector Louis III, both of which had been taken from Heidelberg after the city fell to the army of the Catholic League in 1622, (along with much else from the library), transported across the Alps and given as a gift to the Pope by the Maximilian of Bavaria. In particular, I wanted to see, on the frontispiece of each volume, the Wittelsbach Coat of Arms, and an inscription recording the making of the “gift”.

Having finished breakfast, I crossed the Tiber in the shadow of Castel Sant Angelo, and walked up Mussolini’s ill-fitting Via della Conciliazone into St. Peter’s Square. The queues to enter the basilica were already slow moving, and lengthening., just through Bernini’s colonnade and to the right.

Cortile del Belvedere
Inside Porta Santa Anna, on Via di Porta Angelica, the gate a young Swiss guard in (sadly) a plain blue-uniformed was politely but firmly turning away an enquiring family, but then, when I flourished a printout of the email I had received a few months earlier from the Library’s Admissions Director, Dr. Giuseppe Ciminello (who I was later to meet in person), and asked in my best Latin, “Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticano?”, he politely directed me to a small, glass-sided office. My passport was photocopied and retained, and I received back the photocopied page and a ”Visitatore Biblioteca No. 153” lapel badge. I was directed onwards into the heart of the Vatican, through a distant archway and into the Cortile del Belvedere.

At the end of the courtyard, to the right, were two doors, and upon entering the grander of the two a porter talking on a telephone waved me along a short corridor to the "Segretaria" office. There was a little waiting area, with six straight backed chairs, outside a firmly closed door, and a marble plaque detailing, in Italian and in English, crucial dates in the history of the Library on the wall. The recorded timeline ranged from the first mention of the Library, in a written document in 1451 by Nicholas V, though various relocations, reorganizations, relocations, building projects, and the like, down to 20 September 2010, when the Library reopened after “an extraordinary closure” lasting fully three years.

The plaque included reference to the recent provision of “new technologies, new elevators, and a remodeled entrance hall” - presumably the one through which I had just passed. Sadly, I thought, the remodeling had not extended to “New and helpful instructions posted in numerous strategic locations”, as I had time enough to read the marble plaque from top to bottom, thoroughly and twice, given that there was nothing else to do but sit and wait and wonder what was going to happen next. I was, perhaps fortunate, that I had, quite by accident, chosen a seat with a view of the marble plaque on the opposite wall – my companions, who arrived in dribs and drabs as I sat and read, and were seated opposite, were not nearly so lucky. They had to make do with staring at a blank wall.

There was no indication as to how long I, and the four others who had silently joined me as I sat there, were expected to wait. Eventually, however, after about a ten minute wait, a bespectacled gentleman (who turned out to be my email correspondent Dr. Ciminello) opened the door a little, and beckoned to the applicant to my left (who, to be fair, had been sitting there quietly and patiently, when I had arrived, so was in front of me in our little queue) into the inner sanctum. About 10 minutes later she emerged, and it was my turn.

Dr. Ciminello spoke English well, which was a relief to me as my Italian is rudimentary at best. My letter of introduction was scrutinized, and I completed a form with the required details on it, supplemented immediately thereafter by the taking of a digital photograph, and was given a photo ID card complete with magnetic strip.

I had earlier provided the call numbers of the two manuscripts I had come to consult - Pal. Lat. 50, for the Codex Aureus of Lorsch, created around the end of the 8th century at Lorsch Abbey in Germany, and written almost entirely in gold lettering, and with numerous full page illuminations including a famous one of Christ in Majesty; and MS Pal. Lat. 1071, for "De Arte Venandi Cum Avibus", literally “The Hunting of Birds”, a Latin treatise on ornithology and falconry written in the mid thirteenth century by Emperor Frederick II, and dedicated to his son Manfred, in two volumes and containing handwritten annotations by Manfred.
Christ in Majesty, from
 the Codex Aureus of Lorsch

Along with a few others, both of these volumes had originally, in 1622, been in the Library of the Palatinate located in the University Cathedral in Heidelberg, and both were looted following the taking of the city by the army of the Catholic League, led by the Emperor Maximilian, carried over the Alps aboard a 200 strong mule convoy, led by one Leo Allitius, a Greek-born scholar sent expressly for the purpose by the Pope.

I received a somewhat hurried and complex set of verbal instructions, which had me lost after the first couple of sentences, as to the procedure now to be followed. I left the Segretaria, and the next applicant was admitted and the door closed behind them.

I had understood enough to know that the next step in the process was a visit to the locker room. The online instructions I had read, (and which had also been given to me in the Segretaria, in printed form) directed me that in no circumstances were pens, ink, scissors, knives, razor blades, food, drink (although the rules did refer, somewhat cryptically, to a Library’s Bar) or anything of a like kind were to be taken into the reading Rooms, and no photographs, reproductions, film or sound recordings of any kind were to be made. I found the locker room, but then struggled unsuccessfully with the electronically secured lockers, there being no instructions posted, until another reader, obviously a veteran of the process, took mercy on me and told me that I had first to go and register my swipe card back with the porter talking on the telephone by the front door. When I retraced my steps to the front door, he was indeed still talking on his phone, and but duly waved a scanner handset at my card. I then returned and place the card on a small, relatively inconspicuous magnetic reader box on the wall of the locker room, at which point my allocated locker, number 41, obediently opened.

I deposited my belongings, and clutching my laptop (without case, as per the instructions), pencils, a sharpener and eraser, and some paper, I went in search of the lift that I had understood would take to the Manuscript Reading Room.

There was, again, no apparent sign to guide me, so after wandering a little in some confusion I returned to Monsieur la Telephonique by the front door, who, thankfully, was now between calls. He pointed down a corridor across the entrance lobby, flanked by two curving staircases, and my by now trusty swipe card duly opened the glass barrier midway down this corridor. After passing several glass display cases, I entered the lift and ascending to the Third floor. I took an initial wrong turning, into the Printed Books Room, at first, but a stern-looking but friendly and quietly spoken librarian redirected me into the Manuscripts Room.

My copy of the Rules had informed me that “The Reading Rooms are equipped with surveillance cameras and with tracking devices which will identify any irregular passage (e.g. into the stacks) by readers, as well as volumes which are moved from one reading room to another or illegally removed from the Library.” I had been warned.

This adventure will be continued tomorrow.