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BOCCACCIO, Giovanni / ALBANZANI, Donato degli (trans.). Delle famose donne [De mulieribus claris]. [Florence], 1 Sept. 1456.

4to MS on paper [27.3 x 19.5 cm], (133) ff. (consisting of 13 quinions and 3 singletons), written in a single column of thirty lines, f. 1r. with white-vine initial ‘D’ and white-vine lower border in gold, blue, green, pink and white (with laurel wreath with blank space for arms; later, unidentified arms added in brown ink), rubricated chapter headings, initials in blue, early foliation in Arabic numerals in upper margin, catchwords on final page of quires, Arabic numeration of quires preserved on first page of several gatherings. Bound in old (18th-century?) vellum, pattern of pricked holes (for straps?) on lower cover, vellum sewing stays at middle of quires, red sprinkled edges. Minor rubbing and edge wear to spine and covers. Copiously annotated (see below), some rubbing, staining edge wear to f. 1r, minor to moderate occasional spotting and staining (mostly marginal), one to two letters of a few marginal annotations trimmed at fore-edge (not affecting poems), old repairs to inner margin of ff. 8-11, leaves of fourth quire out of order due to scribal error and misbinding, text perfectly legible, neatly and consistently written.


Fine, 15th-century Florentine vernacular manuscript – illuminated on its opening page with the ‘white-vine’ motif made famous by Tuscan illuminators of the Quattrocento – of Giovanni Boccaccio’s (1313-75) renowned treatise De mulieribus claris (Famous Women), “the first collection of biographies in Western literature devoted exclusively to women” and a work considered to be “the fountainhead of the European tradition of female biography” (V. Brown, pp. xii and xxii). The present manuscript preserves the first volgare translation of Boccaccio’s original Latin text, an Italian rendering (Delle famose donne) made by Donato degli Albanzani di Casentino (d. 1411), a Venetian schoolmaster and friend of the author. Donato degli Albanzani began his translation in the 1360s, “almost contemporaneously” (Scarpati, p. 211) with Boccaccio writing the original work, which he first composed in 1361/1362 but revised several times in the following years. The present volume was expertly written out in a mercantesca libraria script, signed and dated (1 September 1456) by the noted scribe Francesco di Pagolo Piccardi (active 1440s-70s), who was working at the behest of the prominent Florentine cartolaio Angolo Tucci (1395-1476) (see below). The volume also contains copious later marginal annotations in several hands, including poems on prominent women by Bernardo Accolti (1458-1535) and Raffaello Gualtieri (fl. 1550s-70s), as well as several pieces which are yet to be identified (see below).

While the manuscript tradition of Boccaccio’s Latin De mulieribus claris has received sustained scholarly attention over the last century (see especially Branca), much work (and indeed even a proper census) remains to be done on this earliest of vernacular translations, especially considering that during the Trecento and Quattrocento the greater part of female readership of the Famous Women would have experienced the text not in the Latin, but in the volgare.

Inspired by Petrarch’s (1304-74) De viris illustribus (Lives of Famous Men; a title Donato degli Albanzani also translated into the volgare), Boccaccio in the De mulieribus claris penned 103 chapters on classical goddesses and female mythological figures (e.g., Juno, Minerva, Isis, Medea, Arachne, Medusa), ‘historical’ women of the ancient world (Helen, Dido, Sappho, Lucretia, Cleopatra, Agrippina), and prominent women who lived in post-classical times (Empress Irene of Constantinople, Queen Joanna of Jerusalem and Sicily, the Sienese widow Camiloa, the infamous ‘Pope Joan’). Boccaccio notably excludes the vast pantheon of female Christian saints (who had already been adequately covered in the hagiographical tradition). He sought to record for posterity the stories of women renowned for any sort of deed – including both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ women – and although he rarely cites his sources, his stories typically derive from classical authors newly elevated in the wake of Petrarchan humanism, including Livy, Ovid, Pliny the Elder, Statius, Suetonius, Valerius Maximus, and Virgil.

Boccaccio composed the De mulieribus claris at Certaldo between the summer of 1361 and the summer of 1362. He dedicated his treatise to Andrea Acciaiuoli, Countess of Altavilla, a Tuscan noblewoman living in southern Italy, who was the sister of Niccolò Acciaiuoli, an old friend of Boccaccio and a major power behind the throne of Joann, Queen of Naples. Donato degli Albanzani, our translator, first met Boccaccio in Ravenna in 1346, while at the court of Ostasio da Polenta, but a friendship between the two scholars took root only later, during Boccaccio’s visit to Venice in 1363, where he was a guest of Petrarch at the Palazzo Molin sulla Riva degli Schiavoni. Donato began his translation of the De mulieribus claris in the mid-1360s, and is believed to have presented a preliminary version of his work to Boccaccio in 1368 when he visited the writer at Padua. Donato’s translation would not be fully finished, however, until sometime after he moved to Ferrara in 1381 to work as chancellor to Alberto d’Este and as tutor in the d’Este household. He dedicated the completed translation to his pupil Niccolò III d’Este, son of Alberto (see Zaccaria, pp. 132-6).

“Among the most popular works in the last age of the manuscript book” (Brown, p. xii), both in its Latin and vernacular versions, the Famous Women immediately exerted a considerable influence on authors across Europe, including Geoffrey Chaucer, who inserted a translation of the entire chapter on Zenobia as one of the stories that makes up The Monk’s Tale, and Christine de Pizan, who used Boccaccio’s work as a point of departure for her Livre de la cité des dames (1405). “The Famous Women also inspired many imitators in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, among whom are Iacopo Filippo Foresti (De plurimis claris selectisque mulieribus), Giovanni Sabbadino degli Arienti (Gynevera de la clare donne), Alvaro de Luna (De las virtuosas y claras mujeres), Alonso of Cartagena (De las mujeres ilustres), and Thomas Elyot’s Defense of Good Women” (Brown, p. xxii).

Fascinatingly, the present manuscript includes numerous, later marginal additions attesting to the fact that Boccaccio’s treatise was carefully read well into the 17th-century. Ottava rima poems treating Semiramis (f. 2r.), Medea (19r), Helen (39r), Lucretia (53v), and Cleopatra (101r), all written out in the same 16th-century hand, are the work of the renowned poet Bernardo Accolti (1458-1535; called ‘L’Unico Aretino’). At ff. 45v-46r is a sonnet on Dido (itself glossed with relevant lines from Book IV of the Aeneid) by the poet Raffaello Gualtieri of Arezzo (fl. 1550s-70s). These poems were published together in the Libro terzo delle rime di diversi nobilissimi et eccellentissimi autori nuovamente raccolte (Venice, 1550), but they appear there in readings that differ from those found in this Boccaccio manuscript, suggesting that the annotator was perhaps working from a manuscript collection of poems (or, indeed, working from memory). In any case, a thoughtful addition of contemporary poems about famous women to a volume of Boccaccio’s Delle famose donne that was written out a century earlier certainly warrants further examination given the context of wider Cinquecento debates about women then raging on the Italian peninsula (e.g., in Baldassare Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano).

Further annotations in the manuscript include a passage from Aesop’s “De Gallo et Jaspide” (a popular school text, here added to Boccaccio’s chapter on Jocasta; f. 26r) and unidentified poems at entries on Semiramis (2v), Juno (5r), Hypermnestra (15r), Almathea (27r), Pocris (29v-30r), and Flora (75r), as well as various lines of devotional verse (e.g., 52r, 133v), monetary notes, mathematical calculations, and the like. One annotator records (at fol. 80r) the planting of parsley on Monday, 4 August 1567, while another signs fol. 62v “5 November 1663 from Florence.” The names ‘sammoello dangnolo’ and ‘antonio dangnolo dale corti’ are written in the margins of ff. 120r and 121r, and the opening page on the manuscript is inscribed by Bartolomeo (?) Cipriani: An ‘Antonio d’Agnolo di Battista dalle Corti’ and a ‘Bartolome Cipriani’ are attested as living in the Tuscan town of Greve in Chianti during, respectively, the 1570s and 1660s-1670s (C. Baldini, pp. 172 and 183; I Baldini, pp. 51 and 209) and perhaps should be associated with the manuscript.

The manuscript’s colophon reads: “Questo libro e schritto p(er) me Francesco di Pagolo Piccardi a pitizione Dangiolo Tucci cartolaio ad p(rim)o di sette(m)bre 1456. Iddio lodato.” The scribe Francesco di Pagolo Piccardi seems to have specialized in the writing of vernacular manuscripts, recording his name in Italian translations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and of Livy, in a copy of Boccaccio’s Il Ninfale Fiesolano, and in an ottava rima pilgrim’s guide to Santiago de Compostella. His earliest surviving effort, dated 27 August 1444, is, in fact, another copy of Bocaccio’s Delle famose donne, which he wrote out while a prisoner at Florence’s infamous Carcere delle Stinche (see Cursi, p. 184, no. 20; Pavia, Biblioteca Universitaria, MS Aldini 249).

Agnolo Tucci (1395-1476) was cartolaio to the Badia in Florence (from 1451 to 1467), managing shops located opposite Sant’Apollinare and the Camera del Comune. His business was taken over at his death by his son Bartolome d’Agnolo Tucci (1427-1525), who employed several well-known Florentine illuminators of the later Quattrocento (see Commissioni, p. 21).

Further manuscripts identified as having been by written by the scribe Pagolo Piccardi are: Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Barb. lat. 3933, dated 1473; Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Capp. 243, dated 1454; Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana 1517 (Q. III. 9), dated 1463; Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Acq. e doni 145, dated 1455; Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, II. IV. 17, Conv. Soppr. B. V. 2582, dated 1470; Florence. Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Palat. 583, dated 1475; Rome, Biblioteca Nazionale, Vitt. Em. 488; Torino, Biblioteca Nazionale, N. I. 14.; Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits Italiens, ms. n. 900-8773 (on manuscripts signed by Pagolo Piccardi see, S. Mattiazzo, p. 207, no. 184).

Watermarks are of the letter ‘P’, and although buried in the gutter (as expected in a quarto book) and thus impossible to examine with precision, they are consistent throughout the volume and are very like Briquet 8971, which is localized to Siena 1454-57 and Florence 1461-62.

We have located only 1 example of Donato degli Albanzani’s Delle famose donne at a U.S. institution (New Haven, Yale, Beinecke Library, MS 398) and just 6 further global copies (Pavia, Biblioteca Universitaria, MS Aldini 249; London, British Library, MS Add. 16. 435; Oxford, Bodleian, MS Canon. It. 86; Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Palat. E. 5. 6. 60; Torino, Bib. Univ., Cod. E. IV, 29 (Lat. 1047); and Montecassino, MS 528, s. xv [see, Inguanez, vol. 3, pp. 185-6; Tosti, pp. 7-14]).

Indeed, while manuscripts of Boccaccio’s Latin De mulieribus claris survive in much greater numbers than do manuscripts of Albanzani’s translation (V. Branca traces some 110 Latin copies, although 30 of these are damaged, incomplete, or excerpts), these too are quite rare in the United States, with just 3 examples having been recorded (New Haven, Yale, Beinecke Library, Marston MS 62; Wellesley, Mass., Wellesley College, MS 843; Cambridge, Harvard, MS Richardson 41 [fragment]; see, V. Branca).

* G. Manzoni, Delle Donne Famose de Giovanni Boccacci, traduzione di M. Donato degli Albanzani di Casentino, detto L’Apenninigena, (1881); V. Brown, ed. and trans., Giovanni Boccaccio. Famous Women; V. Zaccaria, “I volgarizzamenti del Boccacco latino à Venezia,” in V. Branca and G. Padoan, eds., Boccaccio, Venezia e il Veneto, pp. 131-52; L. Tosti, e.d., Volgarizzamento di Maestro Donato da Casentino dell’opera di Messer Boccaccio De claris mulieribus; C. Scarpati, “Note sulla fortuna editorial del Boccaccio: I volgarizzamenti cinquecenteschi delle opere latine,” in G. Tournoy, ed., Boccaccio in Europe, pp. 209-20; A. Altamura, “Donato da Casentino: Un volgarizzamento trecentesco del De Claris mulieribus del Boccaccio,” Atti e memorie della R. Accademia Petrarca di Lettere Arte e Scienze, vol. 24 (1938), pp. 265-71; L. Toretta, “Il Liber de claris mulieribus, Parte III: I traduttori del Liber de claris mulieribus,” Giornale storico della letteratura italiana, vol. 40 (1902), pp. 35-50; F. Novati, “Donato degli Albanzani alla corte estense,” Archivio storico italiano, ser. 5, vol. 6 (1890), pp. 365-85; V. Branca, Tradizione delle opere di Giovanni Boccaccio, vol. 1, “Un primo elenco dei codici e tre studi,” pp. 92-98, and vol. 2, “Un secondo elenco di manoscritti e studi sul testo del ‘Decameron’ con due appendici,” pp. 57-62; M. Franklin, Boccaccio’s Heroines: Power and Virtue in Renaissance Society; I. Baldini, Pievi, parrocchie e castelli de Greve in Chianti; C. Baldini, Statuti della lega di Val di Greve; M. Cursi, “‘Con molte sue fatiche’: copisti in carcere alle Stinche alla fine del Medioevo (secoli XIV e XV),” in In uno volumine: Studi in onore di Cesare Scalon, ed. L. Pani, pp. 151-92; C. Guerzi, “Un manoscritto ferrarese del tempo di Niccolò III d’Este: il De mulieribus claris della Bodleian Library di Oxford (Canon. it. 86) e il suo miniatore,” in Intorno a Boccaccio, ed. S. Zamponi, pp. 157-77; M. P. Mussini Sacchi, “Le ottave epigrammatiche di Bernardo Accolti nel ms. Rossiano 680,” Interpres, vol. XV (1995-96), pp. 219-301; S. Mattiazzo, Di mia propria mano. Le sottoscrizioni dei copisti “italiani” del Quattrocento nei codici della Bibloteca Riccardiana di Firenze; R. Daniels, Boccaccio and the Book: Production and Reading in Italy 1340-1520; F. Zambrini, Serie delle edizioni delle opere di Giovanni Boccacci: Latine, volgare, tradotte, pp. 21-7; A. Hortis, Studi sulle Opere Latine del Boccaccio, pp. 930-31.

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