The Canonici collection from Italy to Oxford: towards the bicentenary

From Irene Ceccherini:

Amongst the Bodleian’s rich holdings of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, the number from Italy is second only to those from the British Isles. This is due chiefly to the collection of one man, the Venetian Matteo Luigi Canonici (1727-1805). Canonici was a Jesuit, but had devoted himself to collecting after the suppression of the order in parts of Italy in 1773. After his death the collection passed eventually to Giovanni Perisinotti, who sold over 2,000 manuscripts to the Bodleian in 1817. This was the largest single purchase of manuscripts ever made by the Library, which up to that time had mostly acquired manuscripts by donation and bequest. Much of the residue was bought by Walter Sneyd (1809-88) and sold in his sale at Sotheby’s in 1903.

Bodleian MS. Canon. Class. Lat. 257, fol. 2r
Bodleian MS. Canon. Class. Lat. 257, fol. 2r; Cicero, Somnium Scipionis, with Macrobius’ Commentary

Such an extraordinary collection is a strong starting point for several paths of research, from textual criticism to the history of the book, palaeography, codicology, manuscript illumination and history of libraries. Irene Ceccherini’s project The Shaping of the Latin Classics in fourteenth-century Italy is centred on the Canonici manuscripts. Other activities will be planned to celebrate the bicentenary of the arrival of the Canonici manuscripts in Oxford in 2017.

Most of the Canonici manuscripts are described in various volumes of the Quarto series of catalogues, except for the liturgical ones, which are described in the Summary Catalogue (vol. IV, 331-99). The Quarto catalogues are fine achievements of their time (19th century): they offer a general idea of the texts transmitted by the Canonici manuscripts, of their dates and places of origin, of their owners and readers.

The divisions of the collection are as follows:

– MSS. Canon. Bibl. Lat. (Canonici Latin Biblical): 94 mss.
– MSS. Canon. Class. Lat. (Canonici Latin Classical): 311 mss.
– MSS. Canon. Gr. (Canonici Greek): 128 mss.
– MSS. Canon. Ital. (Canonici Italian): 297 mss. in Italian and 5 in Spanish
– MSS. Canon. Liturg. (Canonici Liturgical): 258 mss.
– MSS. Canon. Misc. (Canonici Miscellaneous): 576 mss.
– MSS. Canon. Pat. Lat. (Canonici Latin Patristic): 232 mss.

Canonici’s books date from the eleventh to the seventeenth century and range from Latin and Greek classical literature to biblical, liturgical and patristical texts, from Medieval vernacular literature (mainly Italian, but also French and Spanish), to philosophical and medical treatises. Most of the books are of Italian origin and provenance, but a considerable number come from France, England, Germany, Austria, Spain or the Flanders. A large proportion of Canonici’s collection had formerly belonged to the library of another Venetian, Jacopo Soranzo (1686-1761), who had in turn absorbed manuscripts from the library formed by the Venetian nobleman, statesman and scholar Bernardo Trevisan (1652-1720).

Short descriptions of some manuscripts (Canon. Class. Lat.) are available online; other will be published in the next months.