Autographs’ and Authors’ Personal Specimens of their Works

Research Project

Research on medieval text-production and book-production can obtain fresh insights when it investigates authors’ technical steps in the composition of their works, and does so with regard to the institutional frame in which texts were disseminated. More often than one might expect, it is actually possible to reconstruct a text’s history. The creation of a work begins with drafts. As a next step the author consolidates his drafted ideas to become a provisional complete text, in a personal text specimen meant to be used as a base for the author’s subsequent steps of work. Such specimens for further work need not be autographs. They might even well be penned by a secretary. The author then continues to rework and complement his text, possibly in several stages, and finally a neat copy is produced for publication.

The process delineated above has for a long time been investigated for literary works dating from the middle of the fourteenth century onward. For instance scholars have identified autographs and personal text specimens of Francesco Petrarca and Giovanni Boccaccio. In the last few decades such specimens have been analysed in detail. Juridical literature, in contrast, has seldom been submitted to this kind of investigations, in spite of the fact that archives and at times also libraries provide plenty of samples of famous jurists’ personal handwriting: namely when jurists submitted a consilium, they certified its authenticity by appending an autograph clause of certification together with their personal seal.

Researchers who have analysed characteristics of an author’s handwriting in his autograph clauses of consilia, right down to the last little detail, get therewith trained to identify the author’s handwriting wherever they may encounter it later. Palaeographic technique of the kind opened the possibility to initiate a project which targets the historical development of jurists’ autographs.

One of the most spectacular findings in the course of this project regards the Speculum iudiciale by Guilielmus Durantis  (+ 1296). Among its hundreds of manuscripts, one was identified to be a personal text specimen of the author. This manuscript’s text had been penned for the author by some professional scribe, and the author then made autograph changes in it. Finally the thus revised manuscript was put at the University of Bologna’s disposal, to produce from it an Exemplar consisting of Peciae. This is indeed a very rare case where the mother manuscript of the final version of a work is still extant. (Cf. Ius Commune 23; Colli, “Juristische Buchproduktion” 2002).

Another important discovery concerned the famous canon lawyer Johannes Andreae. An early stage of his Lectura Decretalium, datable before 1317, has been preserved in manuscript S.II.3 of the Biblioteca Malatestiana in Cesena (cf. Ius Commune 24).

Furthermore, the original autograph of the treatise “Tyberiadis” by Bartolus de Saxoferrato was identified in a manuscript which had formed part of the library of Baldus de Ubaldis (cf. Ius Commune 25). This item and several autograph consilia by Bartolus are discussed in a publication focussing on the destiny of Bartolus’ library and its connection to the dissemination of his works (cf. Colli, “La Biblioteca di Bartolo”, 2014).

The article “A proposito di autografi”, 2008, deals with textual analysis in conjunction with the practice of text production by juridical authors throughout the High and Late Middle Ages. Here philological aspects are placed in the foreground, and unresolved questions of textual criticism are discussed. The article comprises a survey of respective research results from the last decades before 2008. In this time research in the field mainly progressed in the Max-Planck-Institute of European Legal History.

Go to Editor View