Federigo da Venezia, “Commentary on the Apocalypse”

Collection ID





ca. 1420


Venice, (Italy)


Italian and Latin


Ink on vellum


ii + 168 + iii folios; 11.3 × 8.8 × 1.9 in. (28.6 × 22.3 × 4.7 cm)

Exhibit Location

On View in History of the Bible, Translating the Bible

Around 1393, Federigo da Venezia (ca. 1350–after 1401) wrote a commentary on the book of Revelation in the Venetian dialect of Italian. This copy’s rubricated incipit calls it a literalis expositio, a study of the text and its grammar. This differs from the style of interpretation favored by Nicholas of Lyra, although the incipit claims that Federigo had translated his work. The text is in two columns featuring Latin quotations of Revelation followed by Italian translation and commentary. Forty-eight illuminated initials mark the beginning of each chapter. A full-page miniature gives the title and depicts the scene described in Revelation 1:12–20, with John, Jesus, the seven candlesticks, the sword, the keys, and the seven stars. On the back of the miniature is a pen and ink depiction of the four evangelists, David, and Solomon.

Created around 1420 in Venice, Italy. Acquired before 1700 by the monastery of St. Peter in Padua; Discovered in 1700 inside the monastery of St. Peter in Padua by Isabella Papafava, a sister in the convent.[1] Acquired before 1896 by William Morris (1834–1896) of Kelmscott House, London, England;[2] Purchased in 1897 by Richard Bennett (1849–1911), Manchester, England;[3] Purchased at auction in 1898 by James Bain Ltd., booksellers, London, England.[4] Acquired before 1929 by James Mann (retired in 1907), Castlecraig, Dolphinton, Peeblesshire, Scotland; Sold at auction on July 4, 1929.[5] Acquired by 1937 by Leo S. Olschki (1861–1940), Florence, Italy;[6] Sold at auction in 1948 by W. S. Kundig, Geneva, Switzerland.[7] Acquired by William A. Read; Sold at auction in 1948 by Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York City.[8] Sold at auction in 1949 by Sotheby’s, London.[9] Acquired before 1963 by William Alfred Westropp Foyle (1885–1963), Beeleigh Abbey, Maldon, England;[10] By descent in 1963 to Christina Foyle (1911–1999); Sold at auction in 2000 by Christie’s.[11] Acquired before 2012 by Dr. Jörn Günther Rare Books AG; Purchased in 2012 by Green Collection, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Donated in 2014 to Museum of the Bible, Washington, DC.

Notes: [1] An inscription in Italian at the bottom of folio 11r is translated in pencil in the margin with a few minor errors. The text says, “This book here is in the monastery of San Pietro of Padua having been discovered in the house of a very old sister and collected by me, Isabella Papafava, a sister in this monastery, so that it doesn’t get lost. 1700.” Graziosa Zecchini, Memorie di alcune religiose Francescane illustri per santita, vissute nel Monistero delle Vergini Eremite di S. Bonavventura da Padova in Vanzo (Appresso Giovanni Manfre: Venice, 1773), 343, said that Sister Elena Deodata Corner Morosini, a Venetian noblewoman, spent time as a girl at the monastery of San Pietro in Padova under the care of “the most illustrious Donna Isabella Papafava.” Since Sister Elena was born in 1642 and went to San Pietro when she was 6, it is unclear how old Sister Isabella was at the time and whether she was still the abbess 52 years later in 1700. Perhaps she was referring to herself as the “very old religious,” or perhaps a niece of hers with the same name later joined the convent. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Memorie_di_alcune_religiose_francescane/zCut8O_l7NgC?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=Isabella+Papafava&pg=PA343&printsec=frontcover. [2] His bookplate is on the front pastedown. According to the website for the William Morris Society, Morris “built a large library of medieval manuscripts in the last five years of his life, the period in which he worked on the Kelmscott Press” https://williammorrissociety.org/event/online-lecture-medieval-manuscripts-and-private-presses-william-morris-and-his-followers-as-collectors-and-creators-of-books-c-1891-1914/. William Morris was a famed British poet, author, artist, designer, and socialist who was part of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Victorian Britain. The manuscript is number 5 in the list made by his executor, Frederick Startridge Ellis, The Valuation of the Library of William Morris 1896, Appendix B, in The Collected Letters of William Morris, vol. 4, 1893–1896 (Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ, 1996), 401; accessed at https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Collected_Letters_of_William_Morris/mEwABAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=Valuation+of+the+Library+of+William+Morris+-+Frederick+Startridge+Ellis&pg=PA401&printsec=frontcover. [3] Bennett purchased Morris’s library for £18,000. The library contained 112 manuscripts. He sold the manuscripts he did not want to keep the following year. It was said that he did not keep volumes taller than 13″, and so this manuscript’s height of 11.3″ should have allowed him to keep it; https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/319dad4c-20b3-388d-9b58-00683a7c17e7?component=aaecb17f-5fe0-388d-a8f1-869006b2e0d5. [4] Purchased from Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, in London, Lot 126. The William Morris Archive contains a copy of the Sale Catalogue of Morris's Manuscripts and Early Printed Books with annotations of buyer’s name and the amount paid. Lot 126 contains the annotation “126. £40. Bain.”; https://morrisarchive.lib.uiowa.edu/items/show/884. [5] Sold by Sotheby & Co., London, England, Lot 5. Mann was a Glasgow merchant and manufacturer who likely purchased the manuscript from Bain because he also had two other books that Bain bought at the Sotheby auction. The cover of the catalog mentions “AN EXTREMELY FINE SET OF DÜRER’S LIFE OF THE VIRGIN, 1511, from the Library of William Morris.” Bain purchased this item, Lot 403, for £56. Lot 4 in the Sotheby catalog is, “Antoninus Pius. Itinerarium provinciarum omnium … from the library of William Morris with book slip.” Bain purchased this as Lot 10 for £2.18. [6] Anthony Luttrell, “Federigo da Venezia’s Commentary on the Apocalypse: 1393/1394,” The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery 27/28 (Walters Art Museum: Baltimore, 1964–1965): 62–63; accessed at https://www.jstor.org/stable/20168899?seq=1. Luttrell cites P. Vaccari, Scritti di erudizione e di filologia, II: per la storia del testo e dell’esegesi biblica (Edizione di Storia e Letteratura: Rome, 1958), 410–411, for the book being in the Libreria Leo S. Olschki in 1937. Olschki was a book collector and book dealer who was born in East Prussia (now Poland) and relocated to Florence. Increasing antisemitism in Italy led to the revocation of his Italian citizenship by the Fascist government and his move to Geneva, Switzerland, where he died in 1940. The William Morris Library website locates the book in an Ulrich Hoepli catalog in 1937, which could be where Olschki acquired it. [7] W. S. Kundig, Très précieux manuscrits enluminés et incunables provenant de la bibliothèque privée de feu M. Léo-S. Olschki et d’une collection princière: livres anciens des XVIe, XVIIe, XVIIIe siècles et du début du XIXe siècle; vente aux enchères à Genève, Salle Kundig le 23 juin 1948 et le 24 juin 1948, Lot 9. [8] According to the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts entry SDBM_4643 (https://sdbm.library.upenn.edu/entries/4643), the catalog is dated November 29, 1948, and the manuscript is Lot number 327. Given the short time between sales, Read likely acquired the manuscript from Kundig. [9] According to the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts entry SDBM_4606 (https://sdbm.library.upenn.edu/entries/4606) the catalog is dated April 4, 1949, and the manuscript is Lot number 192. [10] Foyle’s bookplate on the front pastedown. He may have acquired it from Sotheby’s. Foyle was the founder of Foyle’s Bookshops in London and was an avid collector of rare books. See https://www.itsaboutmaldon.co.uk/beeleigh-abbey/ for information about the purchase of Beeleigh Abbey, its transfer with its library to Foyle’s daughter, and the 2000 Christie’s auction. [11] Christie’s, London, The Library of William Foyle, July 11, 2000, Lot 23.

Published References:

Anthony Luttrell, “Federigo da Venezia’s Commentary on the Apocalypse: 1393/1394,” The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery 27/28 (Walters Art Museum: Baltimore, 1964–1965): 57–65.

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