Lamento di Costantinopoli [with] a fragment of an unrecorded Italian poem in praise of Malatesta Novello.

Northern Italy (probably Veneto), c. 1460.

Manuscript in Italian on paper, small 4to (170 x 120 mm), ff. [20]; collation i–ii10, with two flyleaves at beginning and eleven at end, 21 lines per page in a fine and legible humanistic hand, dark brown ink, carefully ruled in blind, first letter of each three-line stanza set out into the margin, with a fine four-line initial ‘N’ and coat-of-arms on first text leaf, the initial painted in shades of green, blue and purple with burnished gold and with knotted foliage extending into the inner margin, three-line initial ‘Q’ enclosing knot-work design in the same colours on f. 3r, two-line initials in the same colours on f. 18r and v; first few leaves brown-stained and foxed, stain along gutter (and into text) of subsequent leaves, gradually diminishing towards end of volume; contemporary Italian vellum with evidence of four metal clasps (one each on upper and lower edges, two on fore-edge), ‘FLETUS BISANTII’ written on lower cover in a contemporary hand; soiled and rubbed, small area of rodent damage and a few small wormholes on spine; old shelf-number ‘91’ on front pastedown.


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Extremely rare complete manuscript of Michele della Vedova’s Lamento di Costantinopoli, written in the immediate aftermath of the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453.

Composed at the request of one ‘Frate Puccio’ and dedicated to Alfonso V of Aragon, the work is written in Dantesque terza rime arranged into three parts or iornate. The first iornata comprises a description of the fall of the city (lines 1–201), the second is a eulogy of its glorious past (lines 202–438), while the third exhorts the princes of Europe, and above all Alfonso V, to liberate it from the invaders (lines 439–625).

Very little is known about Michele della Vedova. That he was from the Istrian city of Pula is known both from the Lamento itself (‘la vechiarella mia cita de polla’, l. 393) and from the inscription ‘Michiel de Vidua Polensi[s]’ which appears at the end of the Bodleian copy. The Lamento is his only known work. The oldest dated manuscript, inscribed 12 May 1454, enables us to place the poem’s composition to within less than a year of the fall of Constantinople (29 May 1453). However, in the light of the mention (l. 449 ff.) of Filippo Maria Visconti (d. 1447) as still living, we should not exclude the possibility that the text is an adaptation of an earlier work.

The Lamento is preserved in only nine other manuscripts; four of these are incomplete and another lacks the dedication. Of the five recorded complete manuscripts, all are in Italian Libraries (Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale, MS Nuovi acquisti 341; Ravenna, Biblioteca Classense, MS 139 3 F 2 and another manuscript without shelf-mark; Venice, Biblioteca Marciana, MS 6860 (It.IX.90) and MS 6204 (It.IX.169); and Treviso, Biblioteca Comunale MS 47 (without the dedication)). Our manuscript is the only copy in private hands.

Anna Cornagliotti’s detailed comparison of the surviving manuscripts enabled her to conclude that none of them could be the original, even though an adequate stemma could not be constructed. Further study of our manuscript, which presents readings found in a number of the other manuscripts as well as readings unique to it, will undoubtedly provide new insights into the poem’s textual history and dissemination.

The Lamento occupies ff. 1–17 here. It is followed by the beginning of another work (ff. 18–20) comprising a dedication to Malatesta Novello (f. 18r) and a poem cast in ambitious seventeen-line verses (rhyme structure ABBCADDEEFFGGCCHH) beginning ‘Magnanimo signor illustre e vero / Novello Malatesta in chui le fronde / Sera adombra . . .’ (ff. 18v–20v, ending imperfectly). Several prominent humanist authors dedicated their works to Novello Malatesta (among them Francesco Filelfo, Biondo Flavio, Giovanni Marcanova, and Basinio da Parma), but we have been unable to identify this poem with any known work. Bound as it is with the Lamento di Costantinopoli, the possibility that it is a newly discovered work by Michele della Vedova must not be disregarded. Indeed, the presence of strikingly similar (if conventional) motifs in both dedications makes it highly likely that this is the case:

‘Non pigro la pe[n]na mossi ançi facillimo la presentuoxa audace temeraria & titubante mano ad scrivere nel vulgare ydioma . . .’ (dedication to Alfonso V of Aragon, f. 1v);

‘Considerante la sum[m]a basetia del stato povero et ingegno mio ho ritracto piu fiate la pigra et titubante mano dal scrivere la pen[n]a . . .’ (dedication to Malatesta Novello, f. 18r).

The scholarly Malatesta Novello (1418–1465), Lord of Cesena and Cervia, is celebrated above all as the founder of the first European civic library, the Biblioteca Malatestiana in Cesena, which remarkably still retains its original fittings and contents intact. Containing 343 manuscripts by Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Arabic authors, the library is in many ways the embodiment of mid-fifteenth-century humanist culture. It is therefore not surprising, yet at the same time remarkable, that in the space of a mere 101 surviving lines the author of our laudatory poem manages to cite Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Zeno, Themistocles, Virgil, Homer, Persius, Lucan, Ovid, Juvenal, Statius, Pindar, Propertius, Tibullus, Catullus, Petrarch, Terence, Plautus, Dante (‘primo inventore del nostro ydioma’), Livy, Pliny, Sallust, Valerius Maximus, Justin, Strabo, Varro, Cicero, Appius, Cato, Seneca, Solon, Scipio Africanus, Camillus, Fabricius, Fabius, Martellus, Flaccus, Brutus, Metellus, Paullus, Marius Maximus(?), Servilius, Pompey, Tacitus (probably), Mucius Scaevola, Marcus Curtius, and Torquatus.

Provenance: the arms on the first page are perhaps those of the Benedetti or Benetti, a noble Venetian family whose arms are described as ‘losangato d’oro e di nero’: see for example an armorial compiled for the Fuggers and now in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Insignia Familiarum, vol. VII, Insignia Venetorum nobilium II, BSB cod. icon. 272, f. 101r, and vol. IX, Insignia Veneta, Mantuana, Bononiensia, Anconitana, Urbinatia, Perugiensia, BSB cod. icon. 274, f. 33r) and also a manuscript preserved in the Biblioteca Casanatense (‘Famiglie nobili di Venezia’, MS 1379, f. 11v). We are very grateful to Luisa Gentile for this information.

See A. Cornagliotti, ‘Per l’edizione del “Lamento” di Michele della Vedova sulla caduta di Costantinopoli’ in La Parola del Testo no. 1 (2007), pp. 167–179, and A. Medin and A. Frati, Lamenti storici dei secoli XIV, XV e XVI, vol. II (Bologna, 1888), pp. 195–229.