Bordering on the fringes of heresy and the occult

(pseud-) Gioacchino da Fiore.

Vaticinia Pontificum. Illustrated manuscript on grey-blue paper, in Italian. Italy, end of the sixteenth century.

(pseud-) Gioacchino da Fiore Vaticinia Pontificum. Illustrated manuscript on grey-blue paper, in Italian. Italy, end of the sixteenth century.

266x211 mm. 20 leaves. Complete. Five quires. Collation: 14+1, 24, 34+1, 44,52. Blanks fols. 1/5r and 5/2. Modern pencilled foliation (used here). Written in brown ink, in a unique hand. On the first leaf beneath the title ('Prophetia dello Abbate Ioachino circa li Pontifici & RE'), Christ's monogram 'HIS' within an elaborate cartouche. Thirty-two wash drawings in brown ink heightened in white chalk biacca. On fol. 18r a folding tab pasted to the outer corner bearing the text 'Leo XII. quem Deus sospitem diutissime servet'. Eighteenth-century brown morocco, covers within an elaborate gilt frame, cornerpieces. Smooth spine richly gilt. Marbled edges. Lower joint damaged at the extremities. Preserved in a cloth box with morocco lettering-piece on spine. Manuscript in good condition, the ink has corroded several lines of text, paper eroded in places; all holes have been skilfully repaired.


Fol. 1r: title and elaborate cartouche;

fol. 1v: a friar at a lectern – evidently Joachim of Fiore – preaching to his confreres;

fol. 4v: monk with a halo giving books to four monks and four nuns;

fol. 5r: Onorius IV ('Dure fatiche sustinerà del corpo');

fol. 5v: Celestinus IV ('La voce vulpina perderà il principato');

fol. 6r: Alexander V ('La confusione et errore sera uitiato');

fol. 6v: Iohannes XXIII ('Elatione');

fol. 7r: Benedictus XIII ('Li homini forti sara orbati de la Inuidia');

fol. 7v: Clemens V ('Mobile, et immobile se fara, et assai mati guastata');

fol. 8r: Innocentius VII ('Le decime seranno dissipate in la effusione del sangue');

fol. 8v: Gregorius XII ('La penitentia, tenera le vestigie de Simon Mago');

fol. 9r: Niccolo III ('Le stelle congregara accioche luceno nel firmamento del cielo'):

fol. 9v: Martinus IV ('Con le chiaue serara et non aprira');

fol. 10r: Nicolaus IV ('Loriente beuera del Calice de lira de Dio');

fol. 10v: Bonifacius VIII ('Fraudolentemente sei intrato potentemente hai regnato, tu morirai gemendo');

fol. 11r: Iohannes XXII ('Contra la Columba questa imagine brutissima de Chierici pugnata');

fol. 11v: Benedictus XII ('Sei Planeti lucidata et finalmente uno excedera il fulgore di quelle');

fol. 12r: Clemens VI ('La Stola sua delbara nel sangue de l'agnello');

fol. 12v: Innocentius VI ('Il lupo habitata con lo agnello, et parimente cibaransi');

fol. 13r: Urbanus V ('Questo sole aprira il libro scritto con il dito de Dio viuo');

fol. 13v: Gregorius XI ('Li fiori rossi laqua odorifera distillarano');

fol. 14r: Urbanus VI, the Antichrist ('Tu sei terribile, che fara resistentia a te');

fol. 14v: Bonifacius IX ('Lo occisione del figliolo de Balael seguirano');

fol. 15r: Martinus V ('La incisione hipocresi sera ne labominatione');

fol. 15v: Eugenius IV ('La occisione del figliol de Balael seguirano');

fol. 16r: view of a city ('Sangue');

fol. 16v: a pope with a fox and flagstaffs ('Con bona gratia cessara la Symonia');

fol. 17r: view of a city ('La potestate sera unitate');

fol. 17v: the naked pope ('La bona oratione altramente operatione Thesauro a li poueri sera erogato');

fol. 18r: a pope as a pastor ('Bona intentione');

fol. 18v: a pope being crowned by an angel ('Pro honoratione');

fol. 19r: a pope enthroned and surrounded by angels ('Occisione bona');

fol. 19v: a pope with Nabuchodonosor as a monstrous creature ('Reuerentia').

An interesting manuscript on grey-blue paper containing the earliest translation in Italian vernacular – made by the Dominican Leandro Alberti – of the Vaticinia pontificum, the mystical prophecies traditionally attributed to the Calabrian abbot Joachim of Fiore (ca. 1132-1202). The Vaticinia may have had Byzantine origins, but by the late thirteenth century the prophecies were being disseminated by Joachimite disciples and were associated with his authorship. It is the most important apocalyptic work of the Middle Ages, and the manuscript was widely circulated.

The text of the Vaticinia pontificum was produced in two stages. The older set consists of fifteen prophecies, substantially Latin translations of the Greek Oracles composed by Leo the Wise which had been in circulation since about the time of Pope Benedict XI's death in 1304. In the second half of the fourteenth century, another fifteen similar prophecies were produced. From the early fifteenth century onward these two series, along with their related images, commonly circulated together, the more recent series generally placed before the older one to keep the future predictions further from the present. Each prophecy follows a canonized scheme composed of four elements: an emblematic image of a pope, his name before and after becoming pope, a mystical prophecy, and a motto.

In 1515 the Bolognese Dominican Leandro Alberti (1479-1552) – the well-known author of the popular Descrittione di tutta Italia (see no. 110), which was first published in 1550 – was responsible for one of the earliest printed edition of the Vaticinia pontificum.

Alberti's edition appeared in print in Bologna in July 1515 under the title Ioachimi abbatis Vaticinia circa apostolicos viros et Ecclesiam Romanam, and is his first published work. The booklet was issued from the press of Girolamo Benedetti simultaneously with the Italian vernacular edition of the text (Prophetia dello abbate Ioachino circa li Pontifici et R.C). Both editions had obtained the imprimatur from the Inquisition, despite the nature and content of the prophecies bordering on the fringes of heresy and the occult. The Bolognese edition of the Prophetia dello abbate Ioachino is illustrated with thirty woodcuts which only partially follow the traditional illustrative apparatus found in the manuscript tradition of the Vaticinia as they are lacking the names of the popes depicted in the emblematic images. A second edition of Leandro's translation was published in Venice in 1527 by an anonymous printer employing a different set of woodblocks, including two additional illustrations not belonging to the traditional Vaticinia series.

The present manuscript closely follows the Venetian edition of 1527, containing – like its printer counterpart (we have referenced the copy in the British Library, 730/1609) – thirty-two illustrations in the form of chiaroscuro wash drawings, including the two additional images, along with the identical elaborate cartouche on the title leaf. The first illustration is here painted on the verso of the first leaf and shows a friar at a desk – evidently Joachim of Fiore – preaching to his confreres. The second illustration depicts an unidentified monk with a halo giving a book entitled Vitae Patrum to four monks on his right, as well as an untitled book to four nuns on his left (in contrast, in the Venetian Prophetia both books are entitled Vitae Patrum). The subsequent thirty illustrations belong to the traditional Vaticinia series, but – as in the aforementioned printed editions – the scheme is composed of only three elements: an image of a pope at the centre of the page, a motto at the top, and the mystical prophecy below. In this manuscript, however, the sequence of emblematic illustrations does not always follow that found in the Venetian publication. The mottos and the mystical prophecies accompanying each illustration are substantially identical to those included in the publication of 1527, with a few minor orthographical variants.

The manuscript also includes the dedicatory letter from Leandro Alberti to Giulio de' Medici, the future Pope Clemens VII and, at that time, Apostolic Legate in Bologna (fols. 2r-v), followed by the Vita de Ioachino Abbate de S. Flore, composed likewise by Alberti (fols. 3r-v), and the short address in verse on fol. 4r 'Sopra le Prophetie de lo Abbate Ioachino al Lectore' by Filippo Fasanini (d. 1531), to whom the translation into Italian has been also attributed.

Both printed editions of 1515 of 1527 are of the greatest rarity, and extant copies can be counted on one hand. The Bolognese as well as the Venetian Prophetia dello abbate Ioachino were apparently printed in a limited number of copies, a feature which might explain the enduring manuscript circulation of this prophetical work during the age of printing.

H. Grundman, “Die Papstprophetien des Mittelalters”, Archiv für Kulturgeschichte, 19 (1929), pp. 77-138; M. Reeves, The Influence of Prophecy in the Later Middle Ages. A Study in Joachimism, Oxford 1969; D. L. Drysdall, “Filippo Fasanini and his 'Explanation of Sacred Writing', The Journal of Medieval and Renaissance studies, 13 (1983), pp. 127-155; A. Prosperi, “Intorno a un catechismo figurato del tardo '500”, E. Ullmann (ed.), Von der Macht der Bilder. Beiträge des CIHA- Kolloquiums “Kunst und Reformation”, Leipzig 1983, pp. 99-114; O. Niccoli, “Prophetie di musaico. Figure e scritture gioachimite nella Venezia del Cinquecento”, A. Rotondò (ed.), Forme e destinazione del messaggio religioso: aspetti della propaganda religiosa nel Cinquecento, Firenze 1991, pp. 197-227; H. Millet, Il libro delle immagini dei papi. Storia di un testo profetico medievale, Roma 2002; F. Troncarelli (ed.), Il ricordo del futuro. Giacchino da Fiore e il Gioachimismo attraverso la storia, Bari 2006; A. Damanti, “Bononia docet: Leandro Alberti e l'ambiente umanistico a Bologna. Con qualche nota sulle edizioni albertiane dei Vaticinia Summi Pontificis”, M. Donattini (ed.), L'Italia dell'Inquisitore. Storia e geografia dell'Italia del Cinquecento nella Descrittione di Leandro Alberti, Bologna 2007, pp. 97-116; J.-B. Lebigue, H. Millet et. al. (eds.), Vaticinia Pontificum (ms. A.2448, Biblioteca Comunale dell'Archiginnasio, Bolonia). Libro de estudios, Madrid 2008; R. Rusconi, Santo Padre. La santità del papa da san Pietro a Giovanni Paolo I, Roma 2010; A. Prosperi, “Vaticinia Pontificum. Peregrinazioni cinquecentesche di un testo celebre”. M. Donattini (ed.), Tra Rinascimento e Controriforma: Continuità di una ricerca. Atti della giornata di studi per Albano Biondi, Verona 2012, pp. 77-111; Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 177.

$ 40.000