In the Great Library

Written by  Gian Albino Ravalli Moroni

Ferrara and the Este in the library collections in Saint Mark’s.

During the journey to Ferrara, the venue of the ecumenical Council which sought to bring about the union of the Greek and Roman churches, Bessarion, the archbishop of Nicaea, landed in Venice and spent about a month there in early 1438. It was to Venice, almost his second home, that he would give his collection of Greek and Latin codices thirty years later, on 31 May 1468: these formed the nucleus of the Library at Saint Mark’s. Bessarion played an active role in the Council’s meetings. On 8 October, at the opening of the first plenary session, he gave an address urging the union of the Churches. Bessarion had brought with him a number of theological and humanist manuscripts which he had shown to Ambrogio Traversari in the March and April of 1438, and which were subsequently included in the 1468 donation to the Venetian Republic.

In 1801 a Greek testament copied in Ferrara in November 1438 was moved from the Treasury of Saint Mark’s to the Marciana library. The Testament was kept in a precious Byzantine binding, also now in the Marciana. The Council concluded in 1439 with the proclamation in Florence of the union of the Church of Rome and the Eastern Church - a union which failed to be carried through - after which the Greeks left for Constantinople. Bessarion was appointed as Cardinal priest of the Basilica of the Holy Apostles, and settled in Rome close to his church. On 31 May 1468, four years before his death in Ravenna in 1472, he gave his Greek and Latin codices to the Venetian Republic which built a magnificent Library to house them under the direction of the architects Jacopo Sansovino and Vincenzo Scamozzi, decorated with paintings by Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto and other major sixteenth century painters.

The Library of Saint Mark’s, in which Bessarion’s collection joined a number of other important collections from aristocratic families and monasteries, and which, as a ‘Public Record Library’, received a copy of every work published in the Venetian State from 1603 onwards, remained in the building erected for it until 1812. It was then transferred to the Doges’ Palace: Sansovino’s library became, with the Procuratie Nouve, the Royal Palace, and the Venetian residence of the Viceroy Eugène de Beauharnais. In the early years of the twentieth century the Marciana Library moved back across the Piazzetta, into Sansovino’s Zecca, next to the Library, which was restored to its original use during the 1920s.

From the end of the 1920s until the early 1970s the Library housed a permanent exhibition of illuminated manuscripts, illustrated printed books and antique bindings. In the permanent exhibition Ferrara’s illuminated manuscripts were represented by the Cod. Lat. II,60 (=2075), dedicated to Duke Ercole I d’Este (1482?), and stamped with the Este family’s diamond symbol. The codex, probably illuminated by Tommaso da Modena, is a collection of the Orationes ex meditationibus et soliloquiis Sancti Augustini (the figure of Ercole I can be identified among the many illustrations of figures at prayer). It passed to the Marciana in 1796 from the Nani family. The Venetian edition, Piero de’ Piasi, 19.II.1487, of the Orlando innamorato di Matteo Maria Boiardo, (of which we only have only one copy - the oldest known - preserved in the Marciana) is dedicated to Duke Ercole I. A number of editions by the Ferrara typographer Nicolò d’Aristotele de’Rossi, known as Zoppino and active in Venice from 1505 to 1544, are dedicated to Ercole I, and his children Alfonso I, Ippolito I and Lucrezia. Those dedicated to Ercole I include the Opera nova by Pandolfo Collenuccio known as Philotimo; to Alfonso I, the Opera nova di Antonio Cornazzano de modo regendi; and to Lucrezia, the Vita et Passione de Christo by the same writer.

The battle of Polesella, on the Po, highlights the importance of the great river in the armed truce between Ferrara and Venice. The course of the Po, together with a plan of Ferrara, also appears in a fifteenth century manuscript held in the Marciana, the Chronologia magna by Paolino Minorita. After the defeat suffered by the Venetian fleet at Polesella the fleet’s captain general Angelo Trevisan was put on trial in Venice. In his capacity of state prosecutor, the charge was brought by Bernardo Bembo (father of cardinal Pietro, librarian at the Marciana), who had been visdomino in Ferrara from July 1497 to August 1497 (the visdomini, Venetian magistrates with authority over Venetian citizens in Ferrara, were active from1240 to 1509]. In 1498 Bernardo Bembo, visdomino in Ferrara, had built in the Church of Andrew the sepulchre of Tommasina Gruamonti, a Venetian and the wife of Azzo X d’Este (1344 – 1415). Tommasina Gruamonti, the wife of Azzo X, also appears in the genealogical tree of the Este family to be found in the Cod. Marc. It. VII, 16. The Este family were recorded as Venetian citizens in 1331 and among the nobility in 1388. And in 1378 – 1381 the Republic gave the Marquis d’Este the house on the Grand Canal (later Fondaco dei Turchi), in which Nicolò III welcomed, in 1438, the emperor of the East, John VIII Palaeologus, on his way to Ferrara, to take part in the Council. A number of Este princes fought for Venice against the Turks, including Bertoldo, killed in battle in 1463 during the siege of Corinth. His body was carried to Venice on 8 May 1464. On this occasion Bernardo Bembo gave an Oratio in funere Bertholdi Marchionis Estensis pro dominio Venetorum imperatoris in Turcas, the original of which was owned during the eighteenth century by Giovanni Andrea Barotti of Ferrara. Copies of the Oratio are currently held in the Marciana. In the years before the war for Candia – the modern Heraklion - the philosopher from Cento, Cesare Cremonini (1550 c.-1631), taught in Padua. In 1619 he submitted his writings to the Council of Ten to have their religious orthodoxy - questioned by the Inquisition - confirmed. Cremonini’s works, contained in Lat. VI, 176 (=2601), Lat.VI, 177 – 197 (=2823–2849), remained in the hands of the Ten until 1788, when the Council decided to transfer them to the Marciana. In the eighteenth century works of theology, church law or church history published in Venice or in the Veneto were often ascribed to Ferrara and licensed by the Venetian ruling body of the University of Padua. These works include the Causa del probabilismo richiamata all’esame…di Monsignor D. Alfonso de Liguori…, a work by the Dominican Giovanni Vincenzo Patuzzi, Ferrara [but actually published in Bassano], G.B. Remondini, 1764 (segn.156. C. 132); and the thirteen volumes entitled De Synodo dioecesana, written by Pope Benedict XIV, Ferrariae [but published in Venice], apud Haeredes Balleonios, 1767 (segn. 166. D. 224). Between 1780 and 1796, the Raccolta ferrarese di opuscoli scientifici e lettere di ch. autori Italiani, commenced in Ferrara, by Giuseppe Rinaldi in 1779 and edited by the abbot Antonio Meloni di Cento, was published in Venice by the printer Coletti.