Archive for the ‘Medieval Studies’ Category

I just posted this on the Brown University Library site.  I think it is worth posting here, as well.   The original is on the “Brown University Library News“.

A Printed Book Once Owned by Bernardo Bembo

AmB 230--271-inscription

Cecil Clough once noted that we can learn much about the life and travels of Bernardo Bembo from the books he owned, especially “because of his tendency … to make biographical jottings in his manuscripts.”[1] In another remark in the same article, he states that “interestingly enough there is no printed book that certainly can be associated with Bernardo’s library.”[2] Now, thanks to Bernardo’s well-known habit, we can say that the second statement is no longer true.

The Annmary Brown Collection at the Brown University Library holds a copy of Augustine’s De civitate dei printed in Venice by Johannes and Wendelin of Speyer in 1470.[3] The colophon to this edition notes that the printers come from Speyer. In the margin next to that colophon, is an inscription noting that two persons were passing by Speyer on the Rhine and decided to sign this book. The inscription reads: “D. Justus et B. Bemb. dum é regione Urbis Spire essemus internavigantes M.ccc.lxxi. xviiii. augusti . librum Signavimus.”[4]

The date was 19 August 1471, the year after this book was printed in Venice. B. Bemb. is an abbreviation often used by Bernardo Bembo, who left Venice on 16 July to be the city’s ambassador to the Court of Burgundy.[5] But who was “D. Justus”, and could the book have belonged to this person rather than Bembo? The second question is more easily answered. There are many more marginal notations in the book, mostly taking the form of indexing. These marginalia were made by at least two hands, and one is identical to that in other books (manuscripts) known to have belonged to Bernardo, as are many of the other marks, such as manicules.[6] Moreover, on fol. 59v are the words of Bembo’s motto: Virtue & Honor.

AmB 230--059v

As for D. Justus, I would suggest two possibilities. The most likely is Giusto de Baliis da Lendinara, to whom Bembo wrote some letters, and who was mentioned in others.[7] Another possibility, but less likely, is Justus of Ghent, a contemporary painter. Justus of Ghent (or Joos van Wassenhoven) painted for the Duke of Montefeltro, having left Ghent for Italy in 1469 or 1470, and known to have been in Urbino between 1472 and 1474 working on his masterpiece, the Communion of the Apostles.[8]

At any rate, the volume merits more study, and is available in the John Hay Library at Brown University. To make an appointment to view the book, email specialcollections@brown.edu.

[1] Cecil H. Clough, “The Library of Bernardo and of Pietro Bembo,” The Book Collector 33 (1984): 302-331. This remark is on p. 312.

[2] Clough, p. 313. Clough mentions, in a footnote, that he had earlier believed four printed books to be attributed to Bernardo’s library, but now rejects them. It should be noted, however, that a book published just a year later attributes two other printed books to Bernardo’s library. See Nella Giannetto, Bernardo Bembo, umanista e politico veneziano (Florence: Olschki, 1985), p. 356-357.

[3] Augustine, De civitate dei (Venice: Johannes and Vindelinus de Spira, 1470), John Hay Library, Annmary Brown 230. ISTC: ia01233000.

[4] This inscription was pointed out to me by my student assistant, Caroline Hughes, while assisting me in recording interesting features of the collection.

[5] Giannetto, Bernardo Bembo, p. 27.

[6] For manicules, including the characteristic manicules of Bembo, see William H. Sherman, Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), esp. pages 35-36.

[7] Giannetto, Bernardo Bembo, p. 29, 401-402, 408.

[8] Jacques Lavalleye, Juste de Gand: peintre de Frédéric de Montefeltre (Louvain: Bibliothèque de L’Université, 1936), p 40-50. Would Justus of Ghent have travelled back to the Low Countries in 1471? Little is known for certain of his travels, but he would have been known by humanists such as Bernardo, and they could have travelled together.

Read Full Post »

Read this in December of 2013.   A short work, translation of De Commodis litterarum atque incommodis.  More accurate translation would be On the usefulness and uselessness of scholarship.

The short work, written sometime between 1428 and 1430 and dedicated to Alberti’s elder brother, Carlo, is a long diatribe complaining about the poor regard that society has for scholars.  Scholars, he says, should be the most revered people, but instead they are disdained.  Their work is considered useless, it does not pay, and it leads in the long run to penury and illness.  One must wonder what Carlo, who took over the family’s business thought of all this.
Overall, I find his arguments rather tedious, especially with all their classism and sexism, but there are a couple of passages that stand out for their resonance even today:
“Yet, at present the crowd is more pleased with malice than with righteousness, with deception, frivolity, and insolence than with humane and modest conduct, and it is the crowd without whose approval the man of learning can never escape poverty.  The crowd, unable itself to beat the cunning bent on conquest and pillage with which their masters enter into lawsuits, when they see schemer colliding with schemer, glorify the one who wins by more successful scheming.  This, if an unscrupulous learned legalist takes up an unjust case, they will call him a great master, the best of men, and a great friend.  They have come to think deception a virtue, they admire the art of creating a mask and a false image as a remarkable mobilization of knowledge, and they believe that malice and wickedness and deliberate misinformation are derived from recondite knowledge.  When a man is good and just and holy, when he argues cases for the merit they have in terms of justice and equity, when he stands for law and truth, not employing deceit and audacious lies, not shifting his allegiance at will, not hoping to win for the sake of money, but fighting for the sake of honor, they call him useless, ignorant, and a loser of cases.”  (p. 36)
“But let us return to our populace, who have always given the highest honors to gold and wealth.  Indeed, it is no mystery why the crowd is moved, not so much by virtue as by outward splendor.  For the ignorant are attracted by the things they can see with their eyes while those things that can and ought to enlighten them do not move them.  So the ignorant desire the riches they can see and disregard the wisdom they do not have, follow after property and despise virtue.”  (p. 47)
Leon Battista Alberti, The Use and Abuse of Books (De commodis litterarum atque incommodis), translation and introduction by Renee Neu Watkins (Project Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, 1999).    @RPB: PA8450.A5U84x 1999
Have things changed very much?

Read Full Post »

The following are my revisions to the received account of Pope Formosus and the Cadaver Synod, much of which is recounted in this article in Wikipedia, and summarized in the previous post.  Since this information is not yet published, the article will need to wait for revision.

I will generally ignore minor errors of fact, like that Formosus was born in Ostia, for which I know of no evidence (there is no evidence as to where he was born). The Wikipedia article says that he fled Rome in 872 and was condemned that same year. Yet, it also says that he persuaded Charles the Bald to be crowned emperor in 875. In fact, he was sent by Pope John VIII to West Francia to ask Charles the Bald to become emperor, and Charles came to Rome and was crowned by John VIII at Christmas 875. It was only after that, in 876, that Formosus and a group of associates fled Rome under mysterious circumstances. They were ordered to return, and when they did not, they were excommunicated.   The group had fled to the protection of the Duke of Spoleto, who was an adversary of Pope John VIII, and Formosus later went to West Francia, the kingdom of the Emperor Charles the Bald. John VIII issued letters claiming that Formosus and the others were traitors, expecially against the Emperor, but the fact that Formosus fled to Charles’ kingdom would make that claim appear specious. The claim that Formosus also had been a rival to the papal see in 872 was also in these letters, but there is no other evidence for this (although most historians have generally accepted the claim).

In 878, John VIII, still having problems with the Duke of Spoleto, travelled to West Francia in search of aid. While there, he held a council at Troyes, after which he met with Formosus and agreed to restore him to lay communion if he swore an oath never to return to Rome and never to seek to regain his bishopric. On the death of John VIII in 882 (he was the first pope to be assassinated), his successor, Marinus, absolved him of that oath and invited him to take up the see of Porto again.

But my main revisions of the accepted story involve the lead-up to the Cadaver Synod. Formosus became Pope on the death of Stephen V, in 891.   At the time, Wido II, Duke of Spoleto, was now Emperor, having been crowned by Pope Stephen V. Wido asked that his son, Lambert, be crowned co-emperor, which Formosus did. Wido subsequently died and Lambert was crowned Emperor by Formosus.   The assumption has long been that neither Stephen V nor Formosus really wanted the Spoletans to gain the imperial title, but would rather have crowned a Carolingian (descendents of Charlemagne). This is based on entries in a German chronicle, the Annals of Fulda, which claim that both Stephen and Formosus sent secret envoys to Arnulf of Carinthia inviting him to invade Italy and become emperor. I believe that is is also based on some faulty reasoning that no one could conceive of a non-Carolingian emperor, and that the papacy was always in an adversarial relationship with the Spoletans. But, while John VIII (and perhaps other popes) was an adversary of the Spoletans, this was not true of Formosus, as we have already seen, above.

I believe that neither Formosus nor Stephen V invited Arnulf to invade, but the Annals of Fulda, being a source close to Arnulf gave that as an excuse for his invasion, which was really an usurpation of the imperial crown. Arnulf had only recently succeeded to the German kingship, and having consolidated his power there, now felt strong enough to seize the imperial title as well. He invaded Italy and forced Formosus to crown him emperor. Formosus died just over a month later, probably having been tortured and held in captivity. Arnulf, meanwhile, had left Rome in the hands of a governor (Farold) and had gone off to fight Lambert and secure his imperial title. Unfortunately for him, he was stricken by some sort of paralysis, and had to retreat to Bavaria, where he later died. Thus Lambert retained his imperial crown.

In Rome, Formosus was succeeded by Bonface VI, and old man who died only two weeks later. The next pope was Stephen VI, who had been ordained Bishop of Anagni by Pope Formosus. It was Stephen VI who convened the Cadaver Synod, in which the body of Formosus was removed from its tomb and placed on trial. We do not know for certain what the charges were because the acts of this council were ordered to be burned by the Synod of Ravenna in 898, which overturned them and restored Formosus to his place on the papal lists. However, it has always been assumed, and is most likely, that Formosus was accused of having violated his oath to John VIII by returning to Rome and taking up the see of Porto, and also having violated canon law by allowing himself to be translated from the see of Porto to that of Rome. (At the time, is was against canon law for a bishop to move from one see to another – a restriction that was often waived.)   Formosus was found guilty, and his papacy was invalidated as were the ordinations he made while pope. Two fingers were cut off of his right hand (the fingers he would have used to annoint), and he was buried in a pauper’s cemetery, from which he was immediately dug up again and thrown into the Tiber River (with weights to hold the body down).

It has long been claimed that Pope Stephen VI was the “creature” of Lambert and his mother Ageltrude, and the trial was their revenge for his having abandoned Lambert in favor of Arnulf. It used to be assumed that they were even present at the synod. An Italian historian long ago showed that is probably not true. As I have tried to show, Formosus did not invite Arnulf to invade, and our major source for the synod, the acts of the 898 Synod of Ravenna, would indicate that Arnulf was not a valid emperor because he had seized the imperial title by force. Moreover, Stephen VI became pope while Arnulf’s governor, Farold, was still in control of Rome, so he was the “creature” of Arnulf, not of Lambert and Ageltrude. (His first extant letter is dated in the reign of the Emperor Arnulf.)   It is also often claimed that Stephen VI, having been ordained Bishop of Anagni by Formosus, annulled his papacy and his ordinations in order to absolve himself of the very same crime of translation from one see to another. But, since this restriction was often waived, such twisted reasoning was hardly necessary.

Formosus had a long and controversial career in the Church, and had made many friends and also many enemies. There were very powerful factions in Rome at the time, and their origins and their memberships are obscure, and would be a good subject for research. Stephen VI and the small group of other clerics who put Formosus on trial found some valid accusations against him, but none of the crimes would necessitate placing the actual body of the accused on trial. The only really good explanation is that some other people considered Formosus to be a very holy man, and even perhaps a martyr, having been killed as a result of Arnulf’s forcible capture of the imperial title. The enemies of Formosus could not bear the idea of their arch-enemy being regarded as a saint!   The whole point of putting his body on trial was to desecrate it and to destroy his tomb, thus putting an end to the growing cult!   In this they succeeded, despite that fact that the acts of the Cadaver Synod were overturned and burned. The body of Formosus was found and reburied in St-Peter’s, but he has never been considered a saint in the Roman Church.

My arguments depend on much more detail that was provided in the papers listed, and will be documented in my dissertation which I will certainly publish in some form later.   I hope to have finished this dissertation by the end of 2014.    A list of my own papers on this topic are in the previous post.


Read Full Post »

As I mention in the “About” page on this blog, I have been working for a long time on a PhD dissertation on the subject of Pope Formosus, who was Pope from 891 to 896, but had a long and very interesting career before that as Bishop of Porto (the port of Rome).   Most people I talk to about this have never heard of Pope Formosus, but if someone has it is always because of what happened to him after his death. I have put it this way in the introduction to several papers I’ve presented on the subject:

“Sometime near the beginning of the year 897, a shocking spectacle took place in Rome, as the sitting Pope put one of his predecessors on trial. That the predecessor was dead was only one unusual fact about the trial. What shocked contemporaries even more was that Stephen VI actually had the body of Formosus removed from its tomb and placed on the papal throne to face the charges against him! The contemporary Annales Fuldenses report the event in spare terms:

‘At Rome pope Formosus died on the holy day of Easter [April 4]; in his place Boniface was consecrated, who was attacked by gout and is said to have survived for barely two weeks. In his place a pope called Stephen [VI] succeeded, a man of notorious reputation, who in unheard-of fashion turned out his predecessor, Formosus from his grave, had him deposed by proxy and buried outside the usual place where popes are buried. (Annals of Fulda, trans. by Timothy Reuter (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992), under the year 896, p. 135.’”

When I came upon this event many years ago, I found it interesting enough to investigate further. But I was not satisfied with the existing explanations for the ghastly trial, known commonly as the “Cadaver Synod.” So I began to do more research into the subject, and I determined that one cannot really understand the trial without looking at the entire context, including the long career of Formosus, which no one had done in about a hundred years. Many fine historians had investigated various aspects of the subject, as they related to issues they themselves were studying, such as the deposition of popes, or the question of who might judge a pope, but they always accepted the basic assumptions of a hundred years before (which was a natural thing to do in such cases). Over the past ten years and more, I have presented nine papers on various aspects of the career of Formosus, and on the Cadaver Synod, and have reached very different conclusions. I am currently attempting to stitch these papers (listed below) together into a dissertation, but because I get inquiries about this topic, I would like to present the conclusions I have reached, and how they differ from the earlier assumtions that one generally finds in the literature.

The general story can be found in Wikipedia, much of which is based on the work of Horace Kinder Mann, which was based on the work of Louis Duchesne. Duchesne was a great historian of early Christianity and of the papacy, and his work was extremely good, but suffered from some biases not unusual for his day.    In the next post, I will address how my conclusions differ from the generally accepted story.    Meanwhile, here is a list of the papers I have presented over the years that have brought me to those conclusions.

A Synod of Ravenna Confirming the Cadaver Synod?” Paper presented at the XIV International Congress of Medieval Canon Law, Toronto, 5-11 August 2012.     (In publication)

“The Cadaver Synod and the Unmaking of Saints,” A paper presented at the 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan, May, 2011.

“The Synod of Ravenna of 898 as a Witness to the Cadaver Synod,” A paper presented at the 45th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, Michigan, May 2010.

“Renovatio redux: A New Look at the Libellus de imperatoria potestate in urbe Roma,” A paper delivered at the 12th Annual Mediterranean Studies Congress, Università di Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy May, 2009.

“A Failed Crusade? Pope John VIII and the Arabs Reconsidered,” A paper presented at the 41st International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan, May, 2007.

“The Role of the Latin Missionaries in Ninth-Century Bulgaria,” a paper presented at the 40th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, Michigan, May 2006.

“Who was Auxilius? Ethnic Identity in Carolingian Italy,” a paper presented at the 38th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, Michigan, May 2004.

“Invitation or Imitation: The Justification of Arnulf’s Invasion of Italy in 895/896,” a paper presented at the 5th Annual Congress of the Mediterranean Studies Association, Granada (Spain), May 29-June 1, 2002.

“The 898 Synod of Ravenna, and the Rehabilitation of Pope Formosus,” a paper presented at the 37th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, Michigan, May 2002.


Read Full Post »

Just over twenty years ago, I published my first article on a medieval topic.  It was in a very prestigious publication — a book commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Cloisters Museum, and published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  But it fell into the pond of medieval scholarship with nary a splash or a ripple.  So far as I know, it was cited only by a Yale University doctoral dissertation about True Cross reliquaries.  What I attempted to do in this article (and in the talk on which it was based, presented at the fiftieth anniversary symposium) was to examine a True Cross reliquary triptych then exhibited at the Cloisters to see what it could tell us about attitudes toward law and justice at the time and place in which it was produced.  I was drawn to this topic when I first noticed the reliquary, with it’s central figure of Iusticia after taking Robert Somerville’s graduate seminar on medieval canon law at Columbia University.

Now a paper on a work of medieval art presented as a historian, and not an art historian, and giving little attention to its aesthetic value was probably bound to fall upon deaf ears in a symposium attended mostly by medieval art historians, and then published in a book written mostly by medieval art historians (and published by an art museum).   So I have not been terribly surprised by this lack of reception.  So I was pleasantly surprised last year to be contacted by a Belgian art historian who discovered the article and asked me whether I had written anything else on the subject.  Alas, no, I have moved on to other subjects.  But he has now sent me an article that he has just published in a French journal of medieval studies, wherein he picks up the topic where I left it, and carries it further.  In so doing, he gives me great credit for pursuing the topic in a new way.  The author is Philippe George, and his article is: “‘Sur la terre comme au ciel’ : L’évêque de Liège, l’abbé de Stavelot-Malmedy, le droit, la justice et l’art mosan vers 1170,” Cahiers de civilisation médiévale,”  56 (2013): 225-253.

As he says, my article “paru en 1992, … est resté curieusement sans écho.”  In a note at the end of his article, he quotes from my conclusion: “… more research into both the politics and the patronage of the bishops of this period is necessary for a better sense of who might have commissioned this reliquary and for what purpose.”   Philippe George has now done this, and I thank him for taking up this thread and stitching it into something useful.

My own article:  William Monroe, “The Guennol Triptych and the Twelfth-Century Revival of Jurisprudence,” in The Cloisters: Studies in Honor of the Fiftieth Anniversary, ed. by Elizabeth C. Parker and Mary B. Shepard (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992), p. 166-177, can be found on Google Books, here:



Read Full Post »

Just back from a week at Rare Book School, at Yale University.   This was my fifth RBS course, all of them having to do with medieval books, mainly in manuscript, but also in print.   I took Barbara Shailor’s Advanced Seminar on Medieval Manuscripts, which was very good, especially since we got to use manuscripts from the Beinecke Library, which has a large and varied collection.  Also having the expertise of Barbara Shailor, herself, and that of my fellow students in the course, who all came with a variety of experience with this kind of material, was very enlightening.   Anyone who works with rare books or special collections, whether as their primary work as a librarian, or directly as a scholar should check out RBS for it’s course offerings, as they are really very useful.

Having just returned, I was also pleased that someone posted (on the Medieval History Discussion List) a link to this blog entry on marginalia in medieval manuscripts.

Read Full Post »

I participate in another blog as part of my work.  The Brown University Library has begun a blog about “Mobile Apps for Scholarship,” to which I have contributed two posts, the latest being “Reflections on Apps for Medieval Studies.”   Here is a link to it, for anyone who might be interested:


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »