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Home > Catalog > Cathedral and Civic Ritual in Late Medieval and Renaissance Florence
Cathedral and Civic Ritual in Late Medieval and Renaissance Florence
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  • 28 b/w illus. 32 colour illus. 19 tables 8 music examples
  • Page extent: 378 pages
  • Size: 247 x 174 mm
  • Weight: 0.928 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 264/.02/0094551
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: BX1977.I8 T33 2005
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Catholic Church--Italy--Florence--Liturgy--Manuscripts
    • Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral : Florence, Italy)
    • Service books (Music)--Italy--Florence--Manuscripts
    • Service books (Music)--Catholic Church--Manuscripts

Library of Congress Record

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 (ISBN-13: 9780521817042 | ISBN-10: 0521817048)

  • Published January 2006

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$196.00 (C)


Between the “Duomo as spiritual house of a community” and the “Duomo as monument” there is a third reality, almost a “third Duomo”. . . . I mean to say that . . . between the church used for worship and the church-monument, there is the church of the books: the church that expresses itself with words and with musical texts, that transcribes its history, that communicates its inner wealth through illuminated codices. In fact, he who wants to know a church – in its spiritual as well as in its monumental dimension – must get to know it through its study and worship books as well, [books] that over the centuries have shaped the continuity of its life. It is the books which allow us to read meaning in the stones, not the other way around.1

   Prof. Mons. Timothy Verdon, Canon of Santa Maria del Fiore, 1997

The cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, commonly known as the Duomo, is much more than simply the ecclesia maior of Florence and the seat of the city’s archbishop. Over the course of the seven centuries since its founding, it has become one of the icons of Western culture. Perhaps most famous is the cathedral’s grand dome by Filippo Brunelleschi, the crowning achievement of Renaissance architecture and engineering. In the twenty-first century, as in the fifteenth, the impressive cupola still serves as one of the most lucid symbols of human achievement.

   The imposing church we admire today is a relatively late addition to the city’s topography. Founded in 1296 and finally consecrated in 1436, the cathedral’s basic structure was completed only in 1471, when the massive bronze sphere by Andrea del Verrocchio was placed on the top of the dome. Because of its dominance over the city landscape, it is difficult to imagine a time when Santa Maria del Fiore was not there. Yet, underneath today’s edifice, there are traces of an earlier church, much smaller in size, but one which also had served as the domus episcopi of Florence: the ninth-century cathedral of Santa Reparata.2

   A discussion of the history of the Florentine ecclesia maior – first Santa Reparata and then Santa Maria del Fiore – is not only beyond the scope of this project, but is also redundant, given the numerous and excellent studies on the subject.3 It will be helpful, however, to outline briefly the most important phases in the cathedral’s extensive history.4 Built over a fourth- or fifth-century church dedicated to the Holy Saviour (San Salvatore), Santa Reparata was consecrated by Bishop Andrea of Ireland (869–93) in the late ninth century, when it probably also received the episcopal seat. In the mid-eleventh century, possibly under the patronage of Bishop Gerhard, later elected Pope Nicholas Ⅱ (bishop 1046–61; pope 1058–61), Santa Reparata was almost completely reconstructed following a Cluniac plan. Further architectural modifications were executed in the early thirteenth century; as a result, the high altar was reconsecrated around 1230 by Bishop Giovanni da Velletri (1205–30).

   In June 1293 it was decided that the cathedral of Santa Reparata should be “restored.”5 But already by March 1294 the Commune ordered that the church should not be merely renovated, but actually “redone” (“reffici debet”).6 On 8 September 1296, the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin, the cornerstone of an entirely new and greatly enlarged cathedral was laid and the new church was dedicated to St. Mary “of the Flower.”7 After nearly a century and a half of labor and with the completion of Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome, Santa Maria del Fiore was finally consecrated by Pope Eugene Ⅳ on 25 March 1436.

   Florence – Florentia or Fiorenza – was, quite literally, the “city of the flower.” Naming the cathedral “Santa Maria del Fiore” was, therefore, an act of bold civic self-reference.8 Indeed, the dedication to Santa Maria del Fiore was a clear manifestation of the ideological premises upon which the new cathedral was based. Conceived from the beginning “in honor and praise of God and of the blessed Virgin Mary, and in honor of the Florentine Commune and people, and for the adornment of the aforesaid city of Florence,”9 Santa Maria del Fiore was not only the great spiritual center of the city, but also a monument with a distinctive civic function. It served as the venue for diplomatic visits, housed important political events, and welcomed within its walls many of the cultural, spiritual and intellectual leaders of the time. Even the ceremony of the cathedral’s consecration in 1436 was laden with acts of civic and political significance: the knighting of a prominent Florentine government official, the freedom granted to several Florentine prisoners, and Cosimo de’ Medici’s mediation in securing from the cardinals a longer period of indulgences.10

   Whether through architecture, sculpture, painting or stained glass, many artists – Arnolfo di Cambio, Giotto, Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Luca della Robbia, Donatello, and Michelangelo among them – left their glorious mark on Santa Maria del Fiore. Echoing the premises upon which Santa Maria del Fiore itself was built, much of the art of the cathedral was also conceived for the greater glory of God, for the honor of Florentine citizens, and for the adornment of the city. To cite but one example, when Michelangelo received the commission in 1503 for twelve statues of the apostles for the interior of the cathedral, the contract stated that the statues were to be “for the honor of God, for the fame of the entire city, and as an ornament to the city and to the cathedral.”11 Cathedral art was thus often deeply civic in design and intent.

   The service books of Santa Maria del Fiore, so far largely unexplored by modern scholars, may also be viewed as part of this larger context of civic pride and identity. This monograph offers the first comprehensive investigation of the extant cathedral service books – those originally made for Santa Reparata as well as those for Santa Maria del Fiore. The chronological span is consequently quite wide, ranging from ca. 1150 to 1526. These manuscripts provided the texts and, in some cases, the music necessary for the celebration of the liturgical services. In general, they were organized by function: those used for the Mass (e.g. missals, evangeliaries, graduals) and those used for the Divine Office (e.g. breviaries, lectionaries, psalters, antiphonaries). Excluded from the present inquiry are those manuscripts which can be classified as para-liturgical: bibles, homiliaries, legendaries, and passionaries. Unlike the other books, these were not structured specifically for liturgical use and were, in fact, replaced by more practical evangeliaries and lectionaries, codices in which the biblical (evangeliaries) and the patristic and hagiographic (lectionaries) pericopes are arranged according to the liturgical year. The para-liturgical nature of these books seems to have been acknowledged by contemporary Florentines, since they were removed from the sacristy as early as 1448, and became part of the original nucleus of the public library of Santa Maria del Fiore. Clearly, they were regarded as books for study and reference, rather than as service books.12

   As part of the celebrations for the seventh centenary of the founding of Santa Maria del Fiore, in 1997 the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore and the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana co-sponsored the manuscript exhibition “I libri del Duomo di Firenze. Codici liturgici e Biblioteca di Santa Maria del Fiore.” In addition to featuring books that had once been part of the public library of the cathedral (humanistic texts, books of canon law, etc.), the exhibition was also the first attempt to make the service books known to a general public. As co-organizer of the exhibition and co-editor of the catalogue,13 it was my aim not only to focus on the most visually stunning aspect of these manuscripts – their artistic content – but also to emphasize their liturgical and musical value.

   If the exhibition served as a general introduction to the collection of service books, highlighting twenty-three of the seventy-six codices, my doctoral dissertation (“Liturgy and Chant at the Cathedral of Florence: A Survey of the Pre-Tridentine Sources (Tenth–Sixteenth Centuries),” Yale University, 1999) provided a systematic analysis of all the extant cathedral service books. The present study, an outgrowth of the dissertation, seeks to approach the manuscripts from a much wider angle, and to view them not merely as independent codicological objects, but as part of a broader and richer context.

   Because many of the cathedral service books are most evidently treasures of the utmost value and beauty, some have been studied from an art-historical perspective. But to focus one’s investigation on the illuminations contained therein is too limited in scope and fails in part to recognize the books’ complex nature. In fact, within their pages is enclosed the “third reality” to which Mons. Timothy Verdon has fittingly alluded: the books as repositories of the cathedral’s history. In the case of Florence, this view can be extended even further: as manuscripts belonging to a monument of both ecclesiastical and civic importance, they reflect not only the history of the cathedral but, in some ways, also the history of Florence. As will be explored, many of the books, and especially those produced in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, transcend in part their basic function as instruments of worship and become, in essence, libri civitatis. Like the cathedral itself, and like Michelangelo’s statues of the apostles, many of these books served as objects of intense civic pride: they embodied the nature of Florentine culture, the values of Florentine society, and the ambitions of Florentine citizens.

   Most fundamentally, this study recognizes the books as multifaceted objects of a richly composite nature: in most cases they are, at once, codicological, liturgical, musical, and artistic products. As such, the books could be analyzed from a number of different angles, focusing on any one of these disciplinary approaches: the codicological, the art historical, etc. Instead, the methodology adopted here is a multi-disciplinary one, employing these various modes of inquiry while seeking to understand the codices within a broader cultural context. Some exceptions will be made to this type of approach. For example, as the only surviving service books from the early cathedral, the three manuscripts of Santa Reparata will be examined in greater detail than the later books, with a heavier emphasis upon liturgical analysis in order to investigate the distinct ritual practice of Santa Reparata (Chapter 3). But for the fifty-three extant books of Santa Maria del Fiore (Chapter 4), the primary objectives will be to trace the ways in which these codices reflect the growing importance of the cathedral as a center of civic prominence and to explore how they were used as instruments of pride and propaganda within a vibrant cultural, social, and political context.

   Chapter 1 provides an overview of the service book collection. It identifies the manuscripts as originally belonging to Santa Reparata or to one of two phases of production for Santa Maria del Fiore. Thanks to the reconstructive process made possible by an early fifteenth-century manuscript inventory, it also identifies the lost service books of Santa Reparata and Santa Maria del Fiore. This introductory chapter also seeks to describe, in broad terms, the dynamics of cathedral manuscript provision: who were the commissioners, who financed the books’ production, how were the production campaigns organized and carried out, who were the artists and craftsmen involved? Moreover, it examines issues of audience and reception: who viewed the books and in what context? The final section of the chapter traces the history of the collection well into the twentieth century, thus underscoring the continuing relevance of the books even today.

   Based on information derived from the service books themselves, Chapter 2 examines the calendar of the Florentine cathedral, the cycle of festivals and saints’ days celebrated over the course of the church year. First, it identifies the underlying calendar of the cathedral, the set of feasts observed consistently and continuously throughout the centuries. Then, more specifically, it discusses the calendar of Santa Reparata and focuses on those hagiological programs that made this calendar most distinctive. A watershed moment in the liturgical history of the cathedral was the reform ordered by the Florentine bishop in 1310. This important event is examined, especially as a way to understand more effectively the subsequent and fundamental change to the liturgical calendar of the cathedral, that adopted by Santa Maria del Fiore.

   Chapters 3 and 4 represent the core of the monograph, as they offer extensive discussion of many of the service books. Recognizing the year 1310 as a turning point, Chapter 3 examines the manuscripts of Santa Reparata, Chapter 4 those of Santa Maria del Fiore. The three extant manuscripts from Santa Reparata are of great interest and, therefore, are discussed in considerable detail. These codices, especially the two ordinals, are valuable not only because they shed significant light on the liturgical and ritual practice of Santa Reparata, but also because they provide information that helps us gain a clearer picture of the early cathedral’s architectural layout. They also provide evidence for the musical practice of Santa Reparata, especially for the singing of polyphony and for the rich tradition of trope and sequence performance.

   Unlike Santa Reparata, Santa Maria del Fiore has preserved almost all of its service books. Rather than engaging in a systematic discussion of every extant source, Chapter 4 investigates only some of the manuscripts, focusing on those that best reflect the cultural, artistic and political forces of Trecento, Quattrocento and Cinquecento Florence. The first section of this chapter considers the service books created as part of the first, fourteenth-century phase of production of Santa Maria del Fiore. The second section examines the manuscripts made in the Quattrocento and, specifically, takes into account those books commissioned as part of unified campaigns. The last part of the chapter is devoted entirely to the final and most extensive campaign (1508–26), not a new phase per se because not aimed at a wholesale replacement of the books made in the fifteenth century, but a well-organized period of production that brought to light a complete set of graduals and antiphonaries. Particular attention is given to seven choirbooks produced after the Medici’s return to power in 1512: they provide an excellent example of how artistic, liturgical, and musical content served as an instrument of political propaganda.

   Finally, Chapter 5 examines the cults of those saints who received the most interesting liturgical, musical, and visual material. These are either the titular saints of Santa Reparata and Santa Maria del Fiore – St. Reparata and the Virgin Mary – or local saints with direct ties to the cathedral – St. Zenobius, his deacons St. Eugene and St. Crescentius, and St. Podius.

   This monograph does not claim to pursue all of the possible angles of investigation, nor to provide answers to all of the many questions the manuscripts raise. A body of material so vast, so multifaceted, and so much part of the wider context of Florentine culture and society will never be exhaustively analyzed. But it is the ultimate hope of this study to expose a diverse audience to the complexity and wonder of the cathedral’s service books and to offer a solid contribution toward a more nuanced and complete understanding of late medieval and Renaissance Florence.

The cathedral and its service books

A study of the service books of Santa Maria del Fiore should be placed within the context of the history of the acquisition and production of the cathedral’s manuscripts as a whole, from the first twelfth-century codices for Santa Reparata, to the last set of sixteenth-century choirbooks for Santa Maria del Fiore. Thanks to the extensive survival of archival documents, it is also possible to trace the history of the collection to the present day, and thus to demonstrate the continued centrality of these books in the history of Florence cathedral.

The collection of cathedral service books consists today of a total of seventy-six manuscripts, produced between the late ninth and the early sixteenth centuries. Of these, sixty-five books from the mid-twelfth to the sixteenth centuries were created specifically for the liturgical needs of the Florentine ecclesia maior (see Table ). The remaining eleven manuscripts, part of the collection during the later Middle Ages, were originally created for other religious centers or commissioned by institutions or individuals other than representatives and administrators of the Florentine cathedral (see Table ). The manuscripts are currently preserved in four Florentine institutions: the Archivio dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore (AOSMF), the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (BML), the Archivio Arcivescovile (AA), and the Biblioteca Riccardiana (BR).

What survives as one of Europe’s largest collections of liturgical books from a single institution would be today even more extensive – possibly comprising as many as 115 codices – had it not been for manuscripts deliberately eliminated or lost to natural causes such as fires or floods.1

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