< Back to Catalogues
A Cistercian masterpiece of austere beauty from the famous Morimondo abbey
4 St Gregory the Great, Moralia in Job, Italy, before 1174/75
St Gregory the Great, Moralia in Job
Books 1-18 (of 35 Books), vol. I
Decorated manuscript on vellum.
Italy, Abbey of Santa Maria de Morimondo, near Milan, before 1174/75.
420 x 283 mm, 2+242+2 leaves: I8-1 (i blank), II-XXVII8, XXVIII8+1,
XXIX8, XXX10. A contemporary foliation, in red, runs: 1, (2-19
irregularly), 20-242. Modern pencil foliation, incorrect. Numerical
signatures and catchwords on the last leaf of each quire. – Written
space 318 x 200 mm, ruled in lead and blind for two columns of 41 lines.
Written in a fine Praegothica, by several scribes, in brown and black
ink, with running heads in red. – With numerous fine very large parted initial letters
in the Cistercian style, in red, blue and green. – Thick parchment,
slightly cockled, but very clean in the middle of the book block, wide
margins, prickings partly visible, untrimmed. First 16 leaves with a
couple of wormholes, last leaf damaged and darkened (see below). Very
early annotations and corrections in the margins. – 18th century quarter
calf over heavy wooden boards, as is typical for most of the
manuscripts from Morimondo (Ferrari 1993, p. 257). Lettered on spine “S.
Gregor. in Job”.
1. A manuscript ex-libris in a contemporary hand (fol. 242): “Liber
sancte marie de Morimondo”, with the later addition “In inventario XI”,
the latter numeral written over with “i5xii”. The Cistercian monastery
of Morimondo, close to Milan and to Pavia, was founded by its
mother-house Morimond, in Lorraine, in 1134. During the incumbency of
abbot Jacob the monks started erecting a church in 1182. It was
secularised in 1799. The Morimondo library catalogue (which must have
been written by 1174 on liturgical evidence) survived, and it records
this manuscript and its missing companion volume as “Moralia in Job in
duobus voluminibus” (Cambridge Mass., Harvard College, Houghton Library,
fMS Typ 223, fol. 227v, line 8). Bound in as endleaves are two bifolia,
one at the beginning, one at the end, which are from vol. II, and we
must assume that this second volume was so damaged at some time in the
past that it was broken up for use as binding material. Fol. 2v of the
bifolium at the front of our codex bears the signature III; the leaves
contain Gregory’s commentary on chapter 29 of Job (verse 6, “Lavabam
pedes meas butyro”, which is in book XIX). Both it and the rear bifolium
agree in number of lines, script, and format with vol. I.
The historian Paolo Giovio (1483-1552) acquired part of the library of
Morimondo Abbey, and later dispersed it. The Cistercian abbot F. Ughelli
(† 1670) later recorded all those 12th-century manuscripts that
remained in the monastery. This list has survived and is kept in Rome,
Bibl. Vat., cod. Barb. 3229 (fol. 463); it notes as no. 7 “Sancti
Gregorii Moralia in Job”, and as no. 28 “Diui Gregorii in Job”, which
implies that the present copy was not amongst the Giovio books (Leclerc
1961, p. 177, 181, 182). Furthermore, if it is true that Brother
Cirillus Selvaggioni (or Savalggiani) finished reading the book on 2
December 1656, as is noted on fol. 242, this is further evidence that
the manuscript was still part of the monastic library in the 17th
century. There are two further manuscripts from Morimondo that bear
similar inscriptions by the same monk: Milan, Bibl. Braidense, Gerli ms.
12 (Jerome, Commentary on the minor prophets; the precise date is
however illegible); another dated (1665) note by Cirillus is recorded in
a commentary on the Apocalypse, that was sold at Laurence Witten, Cat. 8
(1978), lot 58 (Ferrari 1999, p. 41, n. 32; Ferrari 1993, p. 259f., n.
31). The Braidense manuscript appears to have flyleaves from the second
volume of the present copy of Gregory’s Moralia
(Ferrari 1999, p. 42). It thus seems more probable that the manuscript
was among a collection that came to the seminary library of Como at some
point before 1819, donated by Carlo Revelli, bishop of Como
(1793-1819). Part of this donation was almost immediately swapped for a
couple of printed books with count Francesco Giovio (1796-1873). Ferrari
thinks that the present manuscript was part of the Giovio library in
the late 19th century (Ferrari 1993, p. 288f., 303). That library was
later dispersed in many smaller sales.
2. Christie’s, 1 June 1977, lot 160.
3. H.P. Kraus, New York. His manuscript pencil collation on rear pastedown, dated March 1978.
4. Martin Schøyen, Norway (his ms. 31). His bookplate on front pastedown.
St Gregory the Great (c. 540-12 March 604) was elected pope on 3
September 590. It was in the period between his return from
Constantinople, where he had been sent as the ambassador to the imperial
court by pope Pelagius II, and his election as pope in Rome in 590,
that Gregory wrote his famous Moralia in Job
The text comments on the biblical book of Job verse by verse in 35
books. In his introduction, Gregory explains that “the work originated
as a series of talks given at the request of the monks who accompanied
him to Constantinople during the years 579-586” (Light 1988, p. 53).
“The text is a mystical and allegorical exposition of the many levels
of signification of the book of Job, and it was to be a storehouse of
moral theology throughout the Middle Ages” (Binski, exh. cat. Cambridge
2005, p. 104). The text became enormously popular in European
monasteries, and together with Augustine’s Enarrationes in Psalmos
was one of the most frequently copied biblical commentaries in the
Middle Ages. By inserting introductions and summaries at certain points
in the text, Gregory already implied that he intended his work to be
divided into six parts or volumes. Generally speaking, the medieval
witnesses of the Moralia survive in two-, three- and four-volume formats
(Light 1988, p. 53). “The usual division for a two-volume copy was
after book 16; some scribes broke from Gregory’s divisions and divided
their text after books 17 or 18.” The identical justification of the two
inserted bifolia suggests that the present volume must have been part
of a two-volume edition, divided after book 18.
It is very interesting to note, however, that the Houghton Library at
Harvard University in Cambridge (Mass.) houses a manuscript of the Moralia
also written in Morimondo Abbey in the second half of the 12th century,
containing books 26-35 (fMS Typ 702). Hope Mayo, curator of manuscripts
at the Houghton Library, has compared our copy and the Harvard copy,
and concludes that although the script and the decoration of the
initials are very similar, they did not belong to the same set. In
addition, the Harvard manuscript has quire numbers starting with one, so
that it was certainly volume three of a three-volume edition. It is for
this reason that Light tentatively questioned Leclerc’s hypothesis that
the Harvard manuscript could be identified with the copy of the Moralia
that is mentioned in the 1174/75 catalogue – which was recorded as a
copy in two volumes. Consequently, Ferrari identified the present
manuscript as being the one from the early times at Morimondo Abbey
(Ferrari 1999, p. 44).
It is very unusual, however, to find that a monastery that was founded
only in 1134 already had two copies of a very voluminous text by the
second half of the 12th century, when both copies must have been
finished at the monastery’s own scriptorium. It is interesting to note
that the justification of the written space in the present book and in
the Harvard volume is very similar, but the Harvard copy is ruled for 39
lines and a little smaller (408 x 269 mm), whereas ours is ruled for 41
lines. To explain this, we might suggest that the second copy was
perhaps made in Morimondo for the daughter monastery of Santa Maria
dell’Acquafredda in the Diocese of Como, which was founded in 1142. It
also could be that the text of the Moralia
was so much sought after in Morimondo itself that the friars felt the need for a second copy.
This codex must have been amongst the earliest to have been written at
Morimondo Abbey. An inscription, partly obliterated, dated Friday June
29, 1252 (in error: that date was in fact a Saturday) on fol. 2 of the
bifolium of vol. 2 at the beginning states that the brothers Jacobus of
Benixio and Jacobus of Lomacio gave together concerning this book five
solidi and 6 (?), to wit, for the binding and covering to Dom Collumbo
the prior of Morimondo. The presence of this inscription probably
indicates that vol. II was for some reason broken up before 1252, and
that the present volume was then rebound with leaves from vol. II as
endleaves (as was in Bibl. Braidense, Gerli ms. 12).
Ferrari called the style of the script in the surviving Morimondo
manuscripts “nord-italiana francesizzante” (Ferrari 1993, p. 256).
According to the Carta caritatis
the letters, i.e. in this case the initials, ought to be monochrome and
not painted. This makes clear the paramount importance of austerity, an
aesthetic that also dominates Cistercian architecture. Initials,
therefore, were only intended to structure the text, rather than to
enhance it. This principle or command is more or less followed in the
present manuscript, but initials do appear in different colours and in
significant sizes. The painted initials for both the prologue and the
beginning of the first book cover almost the width of a text-column. The
initial introducing book 18 is simpler, but it subtly encloses the
chapter-number below with its stem. It is the decoration of this initial
in particular that allows a closer comparison of this manuscript to
Gilbert de la Porree’s commentary on the psalms, another
Morimondo-manuscript at Harvard (fMs Typ 29). It appears to be close in
style to our Moralia in Job with regard to script and initial
decoration, and the binding over very thick boards, combining leather
and paste paper, is also very similar. Light (1988) also compared the
present manuscript with another Morimondo codex in Cambridge
(Fitzwilliam Museum, McLean 113: Jerome, Commentary on Matthew) and
dates Gilbert’s commentary to the third quarter of the 12th century.
Equally comparable is Jerome’s commentary on the minor prophets (Bibl.
Braidense, Gerli ms. 12 – Ferrari 1999, pl. 15): the script in both
manuscripts is so similar that they might even have been written by the
It is very seldom that a 12th-century manuscript appears on the market
which can be identified as originating from a well-known source, and
which can be located in a contemporary catalogue. This impressive
manuscript renouncing mere superficial luxury, embodies the new clarity
and purity of faith of the Cistercians.
Cambridge (Mass.), Houghton Library, fMS Typ 223, fol. 227v, line
8; Martini 1931, no. 12, pp. 12-13; Ferrari 1993, p. 269, 303; Ferrari
1999, no. 6. The manuscript is recorded at www.schoyencollection.com/patristic.html#031
(last call September 2011).
Exhibited: Oslo, Katedralskole 850 år, 10-14 March 2003.
Exh. cat. Cambridge (Mass.) 1988 (Light), nos. 1, 19; exh. cat. Cambridge 2005.
We wish to thank Ms Mayo Hope, Philip Hofer Curator of Printing and
Graphic Arts, Houghton Library of Harvard University, for comparing the
present codex to the Morimondo manuscripts from their collection.