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Count Cini’s collection of Medieval and Renaissance miniatures on display in Venice

by Marco Carminati

The Giorgio Cini Foundation, located on the Island of San Giorgio, in Venice, houses a magnificent collection of Medieval and Renaissance miniatures, whose importance and quality can only be compared to a few other collections in Europe and in the world.

The Venetian collection - which comprises 21 manuscripts and 238 pages and clippings - was assembled by Count Vittorio Cini from 1939 to 1960 through purchases on the antiquarian market. In 1962, Count Cini donated his collection to the Foundation.

The collection is composed of three main sections. The first is the collection of miniatures of Milanese antiquarian bookseller Ulrico Hoepli, purchased in bulk by Cini on May 29, 1939.
At the Foundation, it is called the “Collectio Major,” because it comprises a whopping 149 high quality miniatures, mostly from choir books. It also comprises diplomas, clippings from Patristic books, legal texts and “mariegole” (from the Latin “matriculae”), i.e.
statutes of the Venetian professional corporations.

The second group of miniatures was also acquired by Count Cini on a single day (March 28, 1940) and includes 55 pages and clippings. This collection - dubbed “Collectio Minor” - had been put together by bibliophile Mario Armanni, who worked as director of the Hoepli Antiquarian Bookshop.

The third group - also made of “membra disiecta” of choral books - was acquired from Alessandro Cutolo in Milan.

Vittorio Cini preserved these illuminated treasures, collected in bound albums, in the Monselice Castle, and also added four complete illuminated manuscripts, which are currently the most important pieces in the collection: the Martyrology of the Black Flagellants of Ferrara (15th century); the Offiziolo donated by Duke of Milan Ludovico il Moro to King Charles VIII of France and beautifully decorated in 1493 by court miniaturist Giovan Pietro Birago; the illuminated Book of Hours made in 1481 in Florence, in the workshop of Francesco di Antonio del Chierico; and finally the Treatise on the Paternoster, also made in Florence around 1500 by Giovanni di Giuliano Boccardi, called Boccardino.

These four codices were purchased by Hoepli in December 1939, while another valuable codex, the one with the Canzoniere and the Triumphs of Petrarch illuminated by Mariano del Buono (1470), became part of the collection in 1940, alongside the “Collectio Minor.”

Count Vittorio Cini continued to buy miniatures until 1960 and the collection also came to comprise a Book of Hours by Cristoforo Cortese (around 1420), some “mariegole,” some pieces commissioned by the Doge and even two wonderful Persian miniatures.

This fantastic collection - usually carefully preserved in the Foundation’s equipped storage rooms - is now back in the limelight for two important reasons. The first reason is that the whole Cini miniature collection has finally been studied and catalogued piece by piece in an outstanding catalog published by Silvana Editoriale (”Miniatures from the Giorgio Cini Foundation. Pages, clippings, manuscripts,” pp. 544, € 75).

How can the general public, however - unfamiliar with miniatures - enjoy these wonders? Here’s the second reason for which the collection is enjoying renewed attention: until January 8, 2017, in Venice, 120 of the 238 miniatures acquired by Cini are for everyone to see in a spectacularly staged exhibition on the Island of San Giorgio.

(Mindful Hands. The illuminated masterpieces of the Giorgio Cini Foundation, Venice, Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, until January 8)