Burgess collection illuminated letter

Burgess Collection

Burgess Collection MS 8

Thomas of Strassburg, Commentaria super quatuor libros Sententiarum (Prologue and Book I)


[Italy, mid to late 15th century]



Scanned Images of MS 8

Front (Top)Back FlyleafFolio 1rFolio 47rHorn
Front (Bottom) Letter m
I. Material
II. Construction
III. Preparation of the Page 
IV. Text
VII. Binding


I. Material

The manuscript contains 148 leaves of paper and vellum. The inside and outside leaves of the first three quires are of vellum (e.g., ff. 1, 5-6, 10). The outside leaves of quires thirteen and fourteen are of vellum. The first leaf of the final quire is of vellum. The final two leaves were cut out to make a quire of only eight leaves. All other leaves are of paper. There are two back flyleaves, both of used paper. The paper remains in excellent condition, while the vellum has become yellow and wrinkled. 29 x 21.9 cm.

II. Construction

110-1410 1-140 Thomas of Strassburg, Commentaria super quatuor libros Sententiarum (Prologue and Book I)
158 141-148

III. Preparation of the Page

Pricking marks for the lines of two single vertical frames are visible on the top and bottom of most leaves. There are no pricking marks for the lines of the text. The ruled writing space varies throughout from an area of 19.8 x 14.2 cm. to an area of 19.8 x 14.4 cm.

The ruling in light brown is clearly visible on most leaves. The text is written in two columns of 45 lines each. Each column is framed by single vertical lines that extend the length of the page. The lines were drawn by an instrument known as lead point, or plummet. This instrument was one of the writing tools known as metal point. The mark made by the instrument varied in appearance according to the type of metal used. A silver-gray mark was made by a type of lead alloy (often silver and lead). Sometimes the metal was contained in a holder. This was the precursor to the modern pencil. This type of instrument began to be widely used in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. (Brown, Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts, pp. 78, 86; E.M. Thompson, p. 43) The space between the columns is standard at 1.5 cm. The columns vary in size from an area of 19.8 x 6.3 cm. to an area of 19.8 x 6.5 cm. The lines of the text are 0.5 cm. apart.

Watermarks are present on nearly half of the leaves of MS 8. The watermarks on folios 1-50 are in the form of an M, while those on folios 51-148 are in the form of a horn. Briquet noted that horns of small size with the parallel hash marks in the center of the horn seem to be of Italian origin. (Briquet, vol. I, pp. 418, 421; compare MS 8 with vol. III, plates 7682-8) Likewise, watermarks similar to our M have been catalogued by Briquet. As with the horn, they also are of Italian origin. (Briquet, vol. II, p. 448; compare MS 8 with vol. IV, plates 8341-8359) All of the pertinent horn watermarks catalogued by Briquet date from the first half of the fifteenth century, while all of the pertinent M watermarks date from the second half of the fourteenth century to the late fifteenth century.

IV. Text

A. Contents

1. Thomas of Strassburg, Commentaria super quatuor libros Sententiarum (Prologue and Book I) (ff. 1-148v)

a. Prologue, ff. 1r-23r
Inc. Dedit. Abyssus. Vocem. Svam: Abacvuc. tertio. Gloriosus. Doctor. Augustinus. diuine nature supernam dignitatem et rationalis creature eternam felicitatem considerans octauo de civitate dei...
Ex. ...tamquam a sine quo et intrinseco poterit tamen ab ipso nominarii tanquam a sine cuius et extrinseco. Et hoc prologo dicta susficiant ergo et cetera.

b. Book I, ff. 23r-148v
Inc. Veteris ac nove legis [..] et cetera. Postquam magister premissis sui libri prologum hic aggreditur tractatum et dividitur in 2as partes...
Ex. Praeterea recta voluntas debet hoc velle [writing ends in mid sentence, about half way through the final section of Book I]

All previous provenance information identifies this text as St. Bonaventure's Quaestiones super secundo sententiarum. (JB, box 6, folder 11; Faye and Bond, p. 433) It is unclear why this text was identified as the work St. Bonaventure. Comparison of MS 8 with a microfilm copy of Bonaventure's commentary on Peter Lombard's Sentences clearly indicates that this is a false identification. The organization and content of the texts do not match at all. (Bonaventure)

It has been discovered that MS 8 actually contains the prologue and Book I of Thomas of Strassburg's Commentaria super quatuor libros Sententiarum (commentary on the four books of Peter Lombard's Sentences). Thomas of Strassburg (also known as Thomas de Argentina) was born at Hagenau in Alsace (now in France) in c. 1275. Eventually he entered the order of St. Augustine in Hagenau. He then taught at Strassburg (now Strasbourg in France) for several years. In 1335, Thomas traveled to the Augustinian convent in Paris. Two years later, in the same year he received his doctorate in theology, he penned his commentary on the Sentences. In 1345, he was elected prior general of the Augustinians. "As prior general, he vigorously promoted religious discipline and was responsible for the revision of the constitutions of his order." (New Catholic Encyclopedia, pp. 122-3) He held this position until his death in Vienna in c. 1357.

Comparison of MS 8 with the microfilm copy of the 1564 edition of Thomas of Strassburg's Commentaria clearly indicates that our text contains the prologue and Book I of the Commentaria. However, the scribe of MS 8 did not follow the original order of the sections of Thomas' commentary. Instead, our text proceeds in the following order:

  1. Distinctio 1 - Distinctio 6, Quaestio 1
  2. Distinctio 15 - Distinctio 16
  3. Distinctio 8 - Distinctio 14
  4. Distinctio 6, Quaestio 2 - Distinctio 7
  5. Distinctio 17 - Distinctio 48

Each section (Distinctio) of MS 8 contains a small prologue. However, our scribe forgot to copy or purposefully skipped the prologues of the final three sections. In addition, the manuscript remained unfinished as the scribe stopped copying in the middle of a sentence a little more than half way through the final section of Book I.

Used paper leaves were recycled as part of the inner binding and two back flyleaves. These leaves seem to have been part of a commentary on one of the works of Aristotle. However, if they are from such a commentary, it is not known who the author was or on which work the commentary was written.

B. Script

The text is written in the tradition of the Humanistic System of scripts. This system is believed to have begun in Florence just prior to 1400. The development of this system was a conscious reformation of scripts with the aesthetic intentions of reviving clarity and legibility in book production. The system comprises three different types of script: Humanistic Book Script, Humanistic Cursive Book Script and Humanistic Cursive. MS 8 is written in Humanistic Cursive Book Script. This script was invented by Niccolò Niccoli by c. 1420. As with other scripts of this tradition, Humanistic Cursive Book Script was influenced by examples of Caroline Minuscule dating from the late twelfth century. Humanistic Cursive Book Script differs from Humanistic Book Script mainly in its more cursive ductus. This was caused by the fact that Humanistic Cursive Book Script was developed with the primary intention of being an alternate, more rapid form of Humanistic Book Script. (Brown, Western Historical Scripts, pp. 126-7, 130-3)

Because one of the goals of the humanistic system was to restore clarity and legibility to scripts, there was also a strong desire to reduce the need for abbreviation. Nonetheless, certain abbreviations remained. This was generally the case with Humanistic Cursive Book Script. Because this script was intended as a more rapid form, it is understandable that more abbreviations were used. (Compare, for example, Brown, Western Historical Scripts, plates 50, 51.) However, MS 8 contains a mass of abbreviations. Nearly every word is abbreviated in some manner. It seems that MS 8 was written in a later, even more rapid form of Humanistic Cursive Book Script.

MS 8 was written by one scribe. The ink varies from light brown to dark brown. Ligatures of s- t are common throughout. Joined letters are frequent throughout. Fusion of letters is rare. The Humanistic feature of the two-compartment g is common throughout. Tall s and pointed a are also prevalent. These Semigothic Cursive letter-forms were often favored in Humanistic Cursive Book Script. (Brown, Western Historical Scripts, p. 132) Typical Italianisms appear in the text and indicate an Italian provenance (e.g., backwards c for con and q with a crossed descender for qui). (S.H. Thompson, plates 75-80)

As noted above, MS 8 contains writing on two back flyleaves and the inner binding. The script on these leaves is Italian Gothic Book Script (possibly Bolognese). (Brown, Western Historical Scripts, pp. 122-5; compare MS 8 with Brown, Western Historical Scripts, plates 47-8 and S.H. Thompson, plate 74) The vertical lines present in many of the initials corroborate an Italian provenance.

V. Decoration

A. Initials

The above mentioned flyleaves and inner binding contain three medium-sized initials. Each one spans five lines and is either red or blue. All three are quite plain with no decoration.

B. Paragraph Signs

Paragraph signs were added on several folios of MS 8. (See below, Section VIII)

C. Line Endings

This manuscript contains no line endings.

D. Border Decorations

This manuscript contains no border decorations.

VI. Illustration

This manuscript contains no illustrations.

VII. Binding

The manuscript is bound in the original double layer of vellum. There is no stamping or tooling. The binding is firmly sewn and fastened to the quires with strips of leather. It is quite possible that such an undecorated binding indicates an Italian monastic provenance. Edith Diehl has noted that Italian monasteries were prolific producers of manuscripts, "but their monks do not appear to have had much zeal for decorating their bindings." (Diehl, p. 18) Indeed, most extant Italian monastic bindings are undecorated. Diehl also noted that some undecorated Italian monastic bindings are in full vellum covers (as is MS 37). (Diehl, p. 83)

Both layers of vellum had been previously used. The top layer has many tears that allow inspection of the bottom layer. The bottom layer contains one or two columns of writing. "In E" is written on the spine of the bottom layer of the binding. It has previously been speculated that this referred to Aristotle's In Elenchis (De Sophisticis Elenchis) (JB, box 6, folders 11, 14). The outer layer of vellum was previously used as a binding on a smaller work. It contains a noticeable crease on the bottom half of the entire binding.There are also many holes in the vellum where it was previously sewn to another work.

VIII. Additions to Manuscript

A. Binding, front: "quatro polli [...] in paro di capponi et in paro di poll[..], baiochi quart[..]" (upside down, in brown ink).

B. Binding front: "Giu[seppe] Spraetano [15]15" (upside down, in brown ink). [Now faded and hardly visible; this observation was made by Dr. G. Martini when Edward Burgess purchased the manuscript in 1915. (JB, box 6, folder 14)]

C. Inside front cover, bottom: Description of the manuscript from the Anderson Gallery catalogue of items sold at the 1915 war sale where Edward Burgess purchased MS 8 (in black ink on an attached piece of paper).

D. Upper right corner on the recto of each folio: folio numbers (in pencil).

E. F. 1r, upper right corner: Burgess, Ms 8 (in pencil).

F. Inside back cover, upper right corner: 148 cc. II. II (in black ink).

G. Inside back cover, upper right corner: illegible writing (in blue and black ink).

H. Ff. 23v-25r, 47r-48r, 59v-61v, 70r-71r, 75v-79r: paragraph signs in the form of upper case Cs (in red ink).

I. Various folios: marginalia (in light brown, dark brown and red ink).

IX. Provenance

Writing on the front of the binding provides evidence for a monastic provenance. Someone (probably a monastic cook) wrote a note concerning the price of four chickens. Perhaps the manuscript had passed from the scriptorium to the refectorium. (JB, box 6, folders 11, 14) Also, the name Giuseppe Spraetano was written on the front of the binding. In addition, it appears that the year 1515 was written beside this person's name. As noted above, this writing is barely visible at present. It was evidently less faded in 1915 when Dr. G. Martini inspected the manuscript and made this observation. (JB, box 6, folder 14) The identity of Giuseppe Spraetano remains unknown. Perhaps he was a monk in the monastery where the manuscript was originally written. It is also possible that he was the cook who made the note regarding the chickens. However, this is unlikely as the ink and the script of each piece of writing are quite different.

An Italian dealer sent MS 8 to Anderson Galleries in New York City as part of a war sale in 1915. Edward Sandford Burgess purchased MS 8 at this sale on 13 April 1915. (JB, box 6, folders 11, 14) It was part of the collection of manuscripts inherited by Julia Burgess in 1935, and subsequently given to (and partly purchased by) the University of Oregon Libraries.


Unpublished Source

Julia Burgess Papers. Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. UO Coll. 209, 9 boxes and 9 separate volumes. [Referred to above as JB.]

Published Sources

Last revision: 10/30/06 by N. Helmer
Created by Ian Rush for Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries