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Chapter 4 Pious Voices: Nun-scribes and the

Language of Colophons in Late

Medieval and Renaissance Italy
Melissa Moreton
University of Iowa Center for the

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, colophons were a means through

which nun-scribes and decorators could express self-identification and associate
themselves with the monastic virtue of piety. Loosely defined, the colophon is the
note usually added at the end of the text that contains details of its production.1
These notes became increasingly common in secular manuscript production from the
early fourteenth century onward.2 However, colophons written by religious women
were uncommon in this and earlier periods, largely because the monastic virtue of
humility precluded the use of personal identifiers in one’s work. This changed in
the fifteenth century, when convent populations exploded and a new demographic
of women entered monastic life. Within the realm of female monastic book pro-
duction, colophons are often thought to be formulaic and predictable meta-texts
that—though valuable for dating the manuscript and sometimes providing notes
on production—do not offer much personalized information about the copyists.
It is only by looking at a large number of these inscriptions that this image can
be reshaped. Fifteenth and sixteenth-century nuns presented a range of identities
in the colophons they left at the end of the manuscripts they copied. Treated as a
genre of writing, these messages provide a vivid female-authored voice from the
‘anonymous’ walls of the convent and demonstrate how nuns creatively shaped
their identity within the often-limiting strictures of monastic life.
Nuns’ Scribal Colophons

Within my survey of almost two hundred manuscripts, I have identified over

fifty “scribal colophons,” those written by the nun who copied the text, instead
of by someone else at the time or at a later date (see Appendix). These come pre-
dominately from central and northern Italian houses of Observant Dominican and
Franciscan nuns—as well as a large selection from the prolific Bridgettine nuns

Essays in Medieval Studies 29 (2014), 43–73. © Illinois Medieval Association. Published

electronically by the Muse Project at http://muse.jhu.edu.
44 Melissa Moreton

Figure 1: Nun-scribes’ Manuscripts and Their Correlation to Nuns’ Scribal

Colophons Charted by Quarter Century from 1400–1600. Chart credit: the author.

of the Paradiso in Florence.3 The following figure shows all the dated and datable
manuscripts identified from nun-scribes in the period (Fig. 1). Those with scribal
colophons are also indicated. The graph illustrates a sharp increase in the production
of dated and datable manuscripts from the mid-fifteenth century through the early
sixteenth century. The late fifteenth century is very full, with numbers double that
of the previous or following quarter century. As far as raw numbers go, the 1480s
had the greatest number of dated manuscripts. However, manuscript evidence from
nuns’ houses relies to a large degree on the presence of a colophon, so this must be
taken into account when assessing the true number of nuns’ manuscripts produced
in the period (i.e., the overall number of nuns’ manuscripts was likely higher than
reported in the pre-1450 period, when colophon use was less common). The pres-
ence of dates in colophons also increases during the period, as more information
began to be included in these inscriptions. Book production increased and so did
colophon use. There were more books, but these books were also increasingly
likely to include the name of the scribe, date, details of its production and use, and
information about the text being copied. The Bridgettine double monastery of the
Paradiso in Florence offers excellent evidence for the increase in scribal colophons
in the late fifteenth century, since a large number of manuscripts survive from their
library, allowing for a controlled comparative study of colophon use by male and
female religious in the same community. The Bridgettine friars began producing
Pious Voices: Nun-scribes and the Language of Colophons 45

books in the early 1400s but male production slowed by the mid-Quattrocento, when
the nuns began working, producing manuscripts through the mid-sixteenth century.4
Though the picture of nuns’ manuscript production shifts slightly with every
new manuscript added to the canon, the general trend of an increase in the produc-
tion of books echoes that of the rise in convent populations in the period. Convent
populations were at record lows after the Black Death and it was only beginning
in the 1430s that they began to rebuild their numbers, which rose steadily to the
1480s. Convent populations in Florence exploded in the late Quattrocento and
continued to rise through much of the sixteenth century. To put this into perspective,
before the arrival of the Black Death in 1348, one in two hundred to two hundred
fifty residents of Florence was a nun; by 1552, one in nineteen was.5 The rise in
scribal colophons has to do with the sheer number of nuns active in the period, the
general increase in manuscript production, and the nuns’ particular demographic,
which increasingly allowed for various forms of female self-identification.6 The
decline in scribal colophons in the late sixteenth century probably has less to do
with nuns’ numbers than it does with the Tridentine reforms placed on female
houses and the overall decline in manuscript production that occurred after the
acceptance of print books.7
Nuns’ inscriptions may include the scribe’s name and affiliation to a religious
Order or particular house, the place and under whose authority it was completed, or
the time frame associated with the work’s production. It can also sometimes include
the date the work was started and/or the day and hour the work was completed,
and for whom, though it would be rare to have all these types of information in
one colophon. There also are many possession notes and other inscriptions in these
manuscripts, but I have focused only on analyzing “scribal colophons” since I am
interested in what the nun has to say and when she thought it appropriate to say
something. Two themes emerge when looking at the group. One is a presentation
of self, based on notions of piety and connected to an identity within the monastic
community. At the other end of the spectrum is a more individualized portrait,
where the nun in some way sets herself apart from her religious community and
traditional notions of piety. The extremes, and the variations in between, illustrate
the great range of voices active in Italian late medieval and Renaissance convents.
Self-Identification in Nuns’ Colophons

Piety is the overriding theme in nuns’ colophons—but how does this manifest
itself in the language used, and within this context—how did nuns use colophons
to frame their spiritual identity through their texts? In about twenty percent of the
manuscripts, the nuns refer to themselves as “indegna” [unworthy], “serva” or
“schiava” [servant], or some version of “peccatrice” [sinner], exclusively in de-
votional and liturgical manuscripts, where the audience was God and/ or the nun’s
fellow sisters—the readers and singers of the convent. The term “indegna” is used
from the mid-fifteenth century through the sixteenth century within colophons that
46 Melissa Moreton

Figure 2: Suor Paola’s colophon at the end of the first of her two volumes containing
Bernard of Clairvaux’s Sermons on the Song of Songs, completed 10 September
1590. Paola was a nun-scribe from the Benedictine convent of the Murate in
Florence. Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 1794, fols. 369v-370r.

contain scribal signatures. These scribal signatures or sottoscrizioni are scribal

colophons where the scribe provides her name. Suor Angelica Gaddi of Ripoli
from the Observant Dominican convent of San Jacopo di Ripoli in Florence left
a colophon in her 1460 copy of Domenico Cavalca’s Specchio di Croce, saying
that it was “scricto da me indegna serva e schiava di Yesu Christo [written by me
unworthy servant and slave (servant) of Jesus Christ]”8 (Fig. 2). Suor Paola, Bene-
dictine nun-scribe of the Murate, ends the first of her two-volume set of Bernard of
Clairvaux’s Sermons on the Song of Songs saying the work was made “per mano
di suora Paula, indegna serva di yesu christo a consolatione di chi lo leggera [by
the hand of Suor Paola, unworthy servant of Jesus Christ, for the consolation of
the one who reads (it)].”9
Another Ripoli nun, Suor Angela Rucellai, left a Latin colophon at the end
of her Collectarium of circa 1500 “Ego soror Angela indigna serva domini nostri
Iesu Christi scripsi manu propria hoc collectarium [I Suor Angela, unworthy
servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, wrote this Collectarium in my own hand].”10
Suor Checha (Checca/ Francesca), again from Ripoli, refers to herself as a “serva
fidelis” and pays homage to Saint Catherine in the colophon of her 1468 copy of
the Vita di Santa Caterina.11 Suor Innocenza Lelmi, also a Dominican, from the
Pious Voices: Nun-scribes and the Language of Colophons 47

convent of San Clemente in Prato refers to herself as an “unworthy servant of

Jesus Christ” in the colophon inscription in her finished corale (choir book) of
1553 (Prato, Conservatorio/ Monastero di San Niccolò).12 Variations on the term
“indegna” also appear from Florentine and Bolognese Benedictine, Bridgettine
and Observant Franciscan houses in the period (le Murate, Sant’ Ambrogio, Santa
Brigida del Paradiso in Florence and the Corpus Domini, Bologna), but not with
the same first-person self-identification and not attached to the term “serva” or
“schiava.” The choice of terminology used in scribal colophons intentionally
connected nuns to their spiritual leaders. In the case of the Dominican nuns of
San Jacopo and San Niccolò, the use of variations on “indegna serva e schiava
di Jesu cristo” deliberately associated the nuns with their spiritual mother Saint
Catherine of Siena, who used this phrase to identify herself in her letters to her
confessor-biographer Raymond of Capua, fellow spirituals, kings and popes.
Catherine identifies herself as a “serva e schiava de’ servi di Gesù Cristo,” in
letter CCXXVI to her confessor and biographer Raymond of Capua, letter CCC-
VIII to suor Daniella da Orvieto and letter CCXXXV to the King of France. At
the beginning of her letter CXCVI to Pope Gregory XI, she identifies herself in
more heavily penitent language as “indegna e miserabile figliuola Catarina, serva
e schiava de’ servi di Gesù Cristo,” probably taking into account her audience
and the aims she hoped to achieve via the recipient. Saint Catherine’s letters and
writings were widely read in late medieval Italy and would have been familiar to
female religious, particularly to Dominicans. The Dominican nun-scribes who
linked themselves and their writing to Catherine paid honor to her through this
shared self-identification.
The Latin “peccatrix” (sinner) is used in the late fifteenth century by Bolog-
nese nun-scribe Illuminata Bembo of the Corpus Domini, in the copy of her Specchio
di illuminazione and other writings in honor of her fellow spiritual Caterina Vigri
(Bologna, Monastero del Corpus Domini, MS s. s. (2)); “peccatrice” by Bridgettine
Suor Cleofe of the Monastery of Santa Brigida del Paradiso, Florence, in her early
sixteenth-century text which included saints’ Vitae, the Life of Pope Joan, Cavalca’s
vernacular translation of Gregory’s Dialogues, Feo Belcari’s translation of Giovanni
Mosca’s Prato spirituale, and other texts.13 Dominican Suor Petronilla Nelli from
Santa Caterina da Siena in Florence states that her mid-sixteenth-century copy of
the Vita di Savonarola was “scritto per me peccatrice suora Petronilla Nelli [written
by me, sinner Sister Petronilla Nelli].”14 In 1477, Suor Raffaella of the Paradiso
made an appeal to the reader to pray for the one, “misera, peccatore [miserable,
sinner],” who wrote the book.15
Along with expressions of humility as servile and unworthy scribes, nuns also
expressed the pious nature of their work in the scriptorium, some in vivid detail,
stating the considerable pain [“disagio”] and effort [“faticha”] it took to finish
the work. Cleofe (Ginevra di Lorenzo Lenzi), prolific nun-scribe of the Paradiso,
completed copying out a compilation of writings by Santa Brigida saying that the
48 Melissa Moreton

Figure 3: Prolific nun-scribe Suor Cleofe, of the Bridgettine monastery of Santa

Brigida del Paradiso in Florence, left a colophon in 1494 after copying out
Books I and II of Bridget of Sweden’s Revelations and other devotional writings.
Her communal and personal possession note is seen below. Florence, Biblioteca
Nazionale Centrale, MS II_130, fol. 154v.
Pious Voices: Nun-scribes and the Language of Colophons 49

work “Fu scricto con molta fatica e con molto disagio la maggior parte al lume di
lucerne [It was written with much effort and much discomfort by lamp light],” and
providing the date, 26 April 1495.16 She uses virtually the same phrase in another
collection of Bridget’s writings copied the previous year. She states that she wrote
the work “con gran faticha e disagio la maggior parte di nocte al lume di lucerna
[with much effort and discomfort, most of it at night, by the light of an oil lamp].”
She goes on to plead with the readers “not to look at the roughness of the hand”
but to “take from it the sound and true doctrine given by the mouth of truth and by
the glorious Virgin Mother Mary to our mother Saint Bridget” (Fig. 3).17
The note about the rough simplicity of the letters (her “hand” or handwrit-
ing) is a comment on her humility. Though the manuscript was made fairly early
in her scribal career, Cleofe did go on to become the second most prolific copyist
at her house, with at least seventeen works attributed to her. She does not include
her name in the body of this long colophon, which was common. The longer the
colophon, the less likely the nun was to record her name—another nod to piety.
However, she does include it just below in a possession note, “This book belongs
to the sisters and nuns of the Paradiso. Suor Cleofe,” Cleofe’s choice of the phrase
“faticha e disagio” also connects her to her Paradiso nun-mentor and teacher in the
scriptorium, the accomplished and prolific scribe, Suor Raffaella, who is the only
other Paradiso scribe to use this language. Her inscriptions, filled with pious tropes,
demonstrate her desire to be remembered as a pious member of her community.
As she is connecting herself to models of female sanctity by recording her name in
this particular work, the Revelations of her house’s patron saint, she is also aligning
herself with a respected elder in her community, Suor Raffaella.
A number of female religious scribes also recorded their desire to be remem-
bered in the afterlife by stating in their colophons that they would be found in the
Libro della vita—the Book of Life. As can be expected, references to inclusion in
the Book of Life would show up in liturgical books, since these would be seen and
the scribe remembered each time the choir nuns used them to sing. This colophon
was recorded on the spine of the choirbook decorated by nun-miniaturist Eufrasia
Burlamacchi from the Observant Dominican house of San Domenico in Lucca:

Let it be known to all those who will come shortly after us, that
these songbooks were written around the year of Our Lord 1515
by a devoted servant of Jesus Christ, whose name pray to the
Lord he will be pleased to write in the Book of Life.18

Similarly, Observant Dominican scribe Angela Rucellai finished her Gradual of

circa 1500, noting in her colophon that the manuscript was completed by two nuns,
Suor Angela and Suor Lucrezia (Panciatichi), whom she hopes Christ will record
in the Book of Life: “Iste liber scriptus fuit a duabus sororibus monasterii sancti
Iacobi de Ripolis ad honorem domini nostri yesu Christi Nomina carorum fuit
50 Melissa Moreton

Figure 4: Dominican nun-scribe Angela Rucellai, of the Observant house of San

Jacopo di Ripoli, completed her gradual around the year 1500, with a colophon
recording that she made the work in collaboration with fellow nun Suor Lucrezia
(Lucrezia Panciatichi was the notator). It also includes a hopeful note that their
names be inscribed in the Book of Life. Such appeals, along with the names of
the nun-bookmakers, would be seen each time this communal liturgical book was
brought out for the choir nuns of the house to sing from. Florence, Museo di San
Marco, MS 630, fol. 259v.

Suor Angela et Suor Lucretia quas deus scribat in libro vite [This book was writ-
ten by two sisters of the monastery of San Jacopo di Ripoli in honor of our Lord
Jesus Christ, whose names, Sister Angela and Sister Lucretia, may God inscribe
in the Book of Life]”19 (Fig. 4). This appears to be a particularly Observant (and
perhaps Dominican) practice for liturgical colophons; however, Bridgettine Suor
Raffaella of the Paradiso also recorded her wish to be included in the Libro della
vita. She added this colophon to her aforementioned 1477 compilation texts by
Enrico Susone and the pseudo-Augustine, “Finito è il presente libro scripto per
mano d’una monacha indegnamente consecrata nel monasterio del Paradiso, il cui
nome sia scripto nel libro della vita, a dì quatordici di dicenbre M CCCC LXXVII
[This book is finished, written by the hand of a nun unworthily professed in the
monastery of the Paradiso, whose name is written in the Book of Life, on the day
14 of December 1477].”20 The act of remembrance was an important element of
Pious Voices: Nun-scribes and the Language of Colophons 51

late medieval convent life, and colophons were an active means through which a
select group of nuns could record their wishes for the afterlife and their desire to
be remembered.21 The act of copying in the convent scriptorium was considered
both practical and spiritual. Nuns made conscious choices in their imitation of
self-identifying language—choices that connected them to the holy women of
their Order, to revered members of their immediate community, and to a heavenly
community after death. These associations would not be lost on the nuns who read
these books during the nun-scribe’s lifetime or after her death.
Appeals for Prayer and the Use of Rhyme

A quarter of the manuscripts in the study include an appeal to the reader to

pray for the nun-scribe, sometimes specifying which figures they should entreat
on the nuns’ behalf. These most commonly include God, but also the Virgin Mary,
Santa Brigida, Santa Caterina da Siena, and other saints important to the nuns.
In almost all the manuscripts that include an appeal for prayer, the colophon also
includes a scribal signature, or sottoscrizione—where the nun specifies her name
within the colophon—presumably so that one knew whom to name in their prayers.
In the simplest of these instances, the colophon reads “Orate per lo scriptore F.B.
[Pray for the copyist F. B.],” left by a Dominican nun-scribe from San Jacopo di
Ripoli in Florence at the end of her compilation of Vitae and devotional texts.22 In
a similar case Suor Antonia Acciaiuoli of San Pier Maggiore, Florence, left the
Latin colophon “Rogate Dominum pro eam [Pray to the Lord for her]” at the end
of her vernacular translation of a collection of texts attributed to Augustine.23 A
northern Italian nun-scribe ended her copy of a hymnal with “Orate pro scriptrice
sorore Samaritana de Calcagninis [Pray for the scribe Sister Samaritana di Cal-
cagnini].”24 More elaborate is the request to “dicha una Ave Maria per l’anima di
chi s’è affatichata scrivendolo [say an Ave Maria for the soul of the one who wrote
(the book) with such effort].” This is attached to a 1485 compilation of sermons by
Bernard of Clairvaux from a prolific Paradiso nun-scribe Suor Cleofe.25 These are
ways that the nuns could express more personal sentiments in their writing and
attach themselves to beloved intercessors who were very often the female patron
saints of their house. Also, their memory and the memory of their work would
continue on past their lifetime, since they would be remembered through the act
of prayer by the reader each time the book was read, long after they had passed to
the next life. The appeal for prayers in colophons are requests for spiritual gifts,
which they will receive in exchange for their arduous work in the scriptorium.
In one case, copying of a book in exchange for prayer was explicitly stated. The
previously mentioned Dominican Innocenza Lelmi of San Clemente, Prato, states
in her colophon that she, along with providing the materials and binding for the
choir book, copied and decorated it, making it for the choir nuns in exchange
for one recitation of “the seven penitential psalms” and a “requiem mass on the
seventh day after her burial.”26
52 Melissa Moreton

Nun-scribes also asserted a pious identity in their colophons using rhyme. In

thirteen percent of the study’s manuscripts, from across all Orders, this common
colophon rhyming phrase appears: “Qui scripsit scribat, semper cum Domino
vivat. Vivat in celis, semper cum Domino felix [May she who wrote this continue
to write, live always with the Lord, and live happily in heaven with the Lord for-
ever].” Several such cases appear in nun-scribes’ manuscripts from the Observant
Dominican house of San Jacopo di Ripoli, including Angelica Gaddi of Ripoli’s
copy of Domenico Cavalca’s Specchio di Croce, which she finished on 2 June
1460, and Francesca’s copy of the Vita di Santa Caterina, dated 26 April 1468.27
The phrase was common. The first half of the phrase “Qui scripsit scribat semper
cum Domino vivat” had been in use for centuries in monastic book production and
the full phrase was commonly used in both secular and monastic production in
late medieval Italy. The masculine “Qui” remains, which means that the nuns are
copying it from another manuscript or are otherwise unconcerned with the gender
of the pronoun because it is so common. In almost half the cases, the second half
of the phrase is altered to insert the name of the nun-scribe, sometimes obscur-
ing the meter of the rhyme. This is the case with Ripoli nun-scribe Francesca,
who creatively inserted her name in place of “the Lord” in the aforementioned
mid-fifteenth-century copy of the Vita di Santa Caterina from the Biblioteca Ric-
cardiana.28 After copying out the life of her Order’s patron saint, Francesca, or
“Checha,” writes “Qui scripsit scribat, semper cum Domino vivat. Vivat in celis
soror Checha, serva fidelis.” Here the “soror” could be pronounced monosyllabi-
cally, leaving the rhyme intact. “Francesca,” of course, had to be shortened to
“Checha” for the meter to work.29
Another notable rhyming colophon appears in the early fifteenth century, a
colophon in the form of a poem by a Bridgettine nun of the Paradiso in Florence.
This is a direct request to God to watch over the soul of the female-copyist and
comes in the form of a terza rima added at the end of the manuscript she copied out.

I’ priego Idio che dia (et)terna pacie

All’ anima di quella che llo scrisse,
questo libretto che tanto mi piacie.
Et li suo santi cholla mente fisse/ prieghin anchor la vergine Maria
(et) san Giovanni che tanto ben disse,
Che lla difenda d’ogni chosa ria
l’anima’e ‘l chorpo, (et) da’ nimici suoi
ancho lla guarda per tuo chortesia
Aiutala Signore ch’a <i>talla puoi.

[I pray that God grant eternal peace / to the soul of the one who wrote / this little
book, which I like so much. / And let his saints, as I’m determined, / pray to the
Virgin Mary too, and Saint John, who said so much that was good. / Let it please
Pious Voices: Nun-scribes and the Language of Colophons 53

you to defend her from all things evil, / her soul and body, and protect her from
her enemies. / Help her, Lord, since help her you can.]30

Though the poem does not contain the nun’s name, the female voice is in-
dicated by the use of the feminine pronoun “quella”—“the one”—in the first line
and references to the female recipient of the prayers at the end. If the Paradiso
nun-scribe is the author of the poem, she gets the most out of it—since she attached
it to not one, but three of the devotional works she copied.31 The earliest may be
dated 1414 and, if viewed as a type of colophon, is the earliest in the study. These
pious inscriptions encouraged associations between the nun-scribes and the ideals
of monastic virtue, piety, and humility, within both their temporal and heavenly
communities. Though anonymity was not as essential as it was in the early Middle
Ages, nun-scribes carefully crafted their colophons to express as much piety as
possible, while still retaining the appearance of humility—a fine line.
Three Cases—A Departure from Traditional Associations with Piety

At the other end of the spectrum are nun-scribes who more readily break
from traditional associations with monastic piety and virtue, nuns who named
themselves very directly in their writing. Piera de’ Medici, daughter of Bivigliano
de’ Medici, copied out the missal in 1447 at the Vallombrosan monastery of Santa
Verdiana in Florence and left a markedly personal note about half way through the
manuscript, set off in alternating lines of red and black (Fig. 5). This colophon is
interesting for many reasons. It comes in two inscriptions, perhaps for two different
audiences. The first reads:

Petra soror, claro Medicorum sanguine nata,

hoc sacrum virtutis opus transcripsit habendum,
virginibus sancto viride cognomine dictis.

[Sister Piera, born of noble Medici blood, / transcribed this holy work of virtue, to
be held / by the virgins called by surname of “San Verdiano.”]

The second reads:

Librum hunc transcripsit Petra Bivigliani de Medicis,

una ex sororibus in monasterio Sancti Iohannis Gualberti et Beate Verdiane
Deo devotissime servientibus, Ordinis Vallis Umbrosae

[Piera di Bivigliano de’ Medici transcribed this book, / one of the nuns from the
monastery of San Giovanni Gualberti and the Beata / Verdiana, devoutly serving
God, in the Order of Vallombrosa.]32
54 Melissa Moreton

Figure 5: Nun-scribe Piera de’ Medici’s colophon in her missal of 1447. Detail.
Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Conv. Sopp. Vallombrosa codex
235, fol. 142v. Used with permission of the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana.

The first inscription appears to be an internal record for the women of the house,
identifying the book as belonging to this particular community, while playing up
scribe Piera’s perceived status as an elite, born of “noble Medici blood.” The sec-
ond is perhaps a more public record, recording the scribe by name, her house and
Order—that is of “San Giovanni Gualberti and the Blessed Verdiana.” Here she
identifies herself with her full name, though remaining simply “one of the nuns”
of the house, all of whom “devoutly” serve.33 In neither case is Piera anonymous.
In both cases, she names herself as the scribe. Though she connects herself first to
her community of sisters and second to her house and larger religious order, she is
clear to leave a record of her prestigious familial associations.
Another notable detail is the fact that Piera’s colophon is larger than the body
of the text. This happens in no other cases I have seen from the study. A scribe
Pious Voices: Nun-scribes and the Language of Colophons 55

may formalize a colophon by switching to a more formal script, and here she does
some of that by ornamenting and rounding her gothic bookhand. However, Italian
colophons from female religious houses are usually the same size as or smaller
than the script of the main text, as a nod to the nuns’ professed humility. Piera is
clearly and proudly advertising her skill, identifying herself and playing up her
connections to the Medici family name, even though she was only distantly related
to the main branch of the Medici family who ruled Florence at the time. Giovanni
di Cosimo de’ Medici (1421–63), uncle to the future Lorenzo the Magnificent,
and his wife Ginevra Alessandri Medici (d. 1472), did become generous patrons
of Santa Verdiana, paying for liturgical objects and architectural renovations and
expansions during the early part of Piera’s abbacy which began in 1451 (about
four years after she made her missal) and lasted over thirty years.34 Solidifying her
connections to her prestigious family name and to potential family patrons was a
goal that trumped traditional expressions of female piety, and one that is graphi-
cally visible in her colophon.
Nun-scribe Domitilla Bernabuzi also connected herself to her aristocratic
family in her copy of Gregory Correr’s epistle De commodis vitae regularis seu
de contemptu mundi, copied into the vernacular in 1474. Her colophon states “Ego
soror Domicilla filia magnifici domini Francisci Bernabutii de Faventia complevi
hunc codicem die 21 decembris M°CCCC°74 [I, Sister Domitilla, daughter of
magnificent Lord Francesco Bernabuzi of Faenza, finished this book on 21 De-
cember 1474]” (Fig. 6).35
The letter is a theological treatise discussing the advantages of the religious
life. Bernabuzi’s copy of the book begins with a dedication and goes on to say
that “we” have just translated the epistle, “perhaps ineptly” [Et qual novamente
habiamo traduto, fortasse inepte, de una elegantissima Epistola de Miser Gregorio
Corner Veneto].36 That Bernabuzi was educated in Latin is demonstrated by her
Latin colophon and her ability to translate the work from Latin into the vernacular
of her native Veneto. She also must have had an interest in theology in order to
translate the work, even “ineptly” (this may be her nod to piety). Bernabuzi’s use
of an abbreviated humanist miniscule script indicates that she was likely trained
in writing by a humanist scribe. The overwhelming majority of devotional/theo-
logical works copied by nun-scribes in the fifteenth century were written out in a
simple gothic bookhand or littera textualis. The choice of a humanist miniscule is
remarkable, since it indicates that Bernabuzi was familiar with the humanist texts
and scribes circulating in the period, and that she chose to differentiate the work
from the common conventual script.37 It also indicates that she was likely educated
within a secular aristocratic household before entering the convent. There was a
tradition of educating girls in Latin, penmanship, and a humanist curriculum in
many central and northern Italian cities in the fifteenth century. Bernabuzi’s fam-
ily was from Faenza, thirty miles southeast of Bologna, but at the time she made
the book she may have been living in a convent in Verona, where the work is now
56 Melissa Moreton

Figure 6: Colophon page of Domitilla Bernabuzi’s 1474 copy of Gregory Correr’s

De commodis vitae regularis seu de contemptu mundi, written in a humanist
bookhand. Verona, Biblioteca Civica, MS 1196, fol. 30v.
Pious Voices: Nun-scribes and the Language of Colophons 57

Figure 7: Detail of breviary by Augustinian nun Maria Ormani, with colophon

scroll containing the date of 1453. Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek,
MS 1923, fol. 89r. Used with permission of the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek.

housed. As is clear from her colophon, this educated, aristocratic nun’s association
with her family name also remained more important than her identification as a
nun. Unlike Piera de’ Medici, Bernabuzi does not even include the name of her
house or Order in her inscription, but instead connects herself with her aristocratic
father’s name and native city of Faenza.
Maria Ormani’s colophon inscription is the most graphic and elaborate
on the list (Fig. 7). In a 490-folio breviary she copied, she is pictured in her
Augustinian Hermit habit, head slightly tilted and hands held in a gesture of
prayer, inside a cartouche frame of swirling multi-colored leaves. The scroll
floating around her reads: “ANCILLA YHU XPI MARIA ORMANI FILIA
SCRIPSIT MoCCCCLIII [The handmaiden of Jesus Christ, Maria, daughter of
Ormanno, wrote this in 1453].”38 Maria must have been educated in writing, Latin,
and penwork in order to copy the bulk of this work in her well-formed littera
textualis script. Her house is not identified, but the feasts listed in the Missal’s
Calendar may identify it as Tuscan. The common interpretation of Maria is that
she was the manuscript’s illuminator/miniaturist. However, based on the textual
evidence in the colophon scroll and other evidence throughout the manuscript,
I believe she is the manuscript’s scribe. Her portrait on fol. 89r may have been
added posthumously, perhaps because of her revered status in the community.
Art historian Kathleen Arthur has pointed out that the lower register of the folio
where Ormani’s portrait is placed, which begins the Proper of Seasons, is a place
normally reserved for portraits of a saint or a noble family’s coat of arms.39 If
Maria was responsible in some way for this ornate portrait/colophon, the example
58 Melissa Moreton

certainly challenges traditional inscriptions by the pious/anonymous nun. Though

she dressed as a nun and is captured in this gesture of piety, the fact that she
is raised to the level of saints—worthy of being depicted in this fine liturgical
text—is remarkable. If she was not directly involved in the commission of her
portrait, this is still remarkable, since it suggests women’s status in society and
use of their image was changing in this period. In any case, here again the nun
is identified with her family association, rather than her house or Order.
These three nuns, working in the mid- to late Quattrocento, moved markedly
away from pious anonymity and found creative ways to set themselves apart from
their monastic community. These personalized inscriptions come at a time when
many nuns could emphasize their familial ties of patronage, as identities inside
and outside the convent were shifting. As Sharon Strocchia has demonstrated for
Florence, the demographics of women religious had shifted dramatically by the
late Quattrocento, when convent populations exploded. Many aristocratic women
and girls were placed into religious life because of shifting inheritance, dowry,
and marriage practices.40 Many of these new entrants were wealthy, educated, and
coming of age at a time when literacy, education, and artistic opportunities for
secular and religious women were changing. These three colophons may be read
as indicators of this shift in convent demographics, where pious tropes were no
longer the only means of self-identification. This is true for Florence, but also for
urban areas outside Florence, especially to the north where the spread of human-
ist education had an impact on the education of girls. Women began to express a
fuller range of identities and personal motives, as did their secular sisters. Piera
de’ Medici’s motives were twofold: to associate herself with the “noble” and more
prestigious line of her family tree (to raise her status within her community), and
to use this association to further extra-conventual ties of patronage with secular
(Medici and other aristocratic families) and religious patrons (the Vallombrosan
monks who paid for the work). She was, however distantly, related to the most
powerful family in the city and was poised to head one of the wealthiest houses in
Florence. Like Domitilla Bernabuzi and Maria Ormani, she was educated, literate
in Latin and Italian, and an extremely skilled scribe. Domitilla, like Piera, was
intent on leaving a record that, though she was a nun, she was first and foremost
an educated member of an aristocratic family. Maria Ormani’s background is yet
unclear, but she is identified as the daughter of both a worldly and celestial father,
instead of with her conventual community. It is interesting to note that two of these
three examples are liturgical manuscripts, books that traditionally do not carry a
scribal colophon—or, if they do, they are extremely minimal ones usually consist-
ing only of the nun’s house, and possibly her name.
Patterns in Colophon Language and Form

One question that arises when examining the broader picture of colophon
use and writing is: Do recognizable patterns occur within each house and between
Pious Voices: Nun-scribes and the Language of Colophons 59

the Orders? In several cases, some of which have already been noted, language
is repeated colophon to colophon within a house. This may reflect shared scrip-
torium practice, the copying of exemplars from the convent library, or the desire
to attach oneself to a revered figure through imitation of his or her colophon
language. However, looking across the Orders, the length of the colophons and
the information included in them seem to have more to do with the genre of work
being copied, rather than whether the nun was Dominican, Clarissan, Benedictine,
or Bridgettine. Colophons attached to liturgical works are almost exclusively in
Latin and are generally shorter than those from devotional works. The question is
ultimately one of context. How do we know how what nuns were doing that was
different from their closest male counterparts, the monks or friars in their Order?
Or how it was different from the larger secular scribal tradition? Where did they
learn the common conventions used in colophons? What were their models and
how did they depart from those?
We are incredibly fortunate to have a large body of manuscripts from the
Bridgettine double monastery of the Santa Brigida del Paradiso in Florence. Over
one hundred manuscripts are known from their library, large for a female religious
house of the period, and have been catalogued.41 Of these, fifty-one of the works
were produced by the nun-scribes and eighteen by the friars.42 The friars were the
first to produce manuscripts at the Paradiso, largely for the burgeoning book trade
in early Renaissance Florence, but some works survive that were destined for
their library, among them a number of devotional and theological texts by male
Dominican writers, as well as several works of Santa Brigida and Santa Caterina.
The nuns joined the friars in book production by mid-century and produced works
for their own use and use in the shared monastic library into the sixteenth century.
In looking at the texts identified as being produced by the friars and nuns, most of
the nuns’ colophons are written in the same verbose narrative style that the friars
had displayed earlier. These can be unusually wordy and very often discuss the
author and title of the work that was copied and sometimes the date. Several also
end with some version of “pray for me”—“preghate per me” and “Horate per me.”43
The Paradiso nuns carry on this tradition of wordy colophon inscription but depart
from the friars in the inclusion of a scribal signature and regular dating for the
production of the work. The nuns were up to four times more likely to insert their
name into their colophons than were the friars. The most prolific Paradiso friar-
scribe was Frate Egidio, who copied out at least fifteen works in the mid-1400s, and
signed only one—or about six percent of the work attributed to his hand. This is in
contrast to the most prolific nun-scribe, Raffaella di Arnolfo Bardi, who completed
at least eighteen works between the mid-Quattrocento and the early Cinquecento,
and signed more than sixteen percent of these. Suor Cleofe, the second most pro-
lific female scribe with seventeen works attributed to her, signed almost a quarter
of her copied texts. Ginevra di Lorenzo Lenzi (d.1546) or Suor Cleofe, the name
60 Melissa Moreton

she took in the convent, was an active scribe at the Paradiso from the late 1400s
into the mid-1500s. The general rise in the occurrence of sottoscrizioni or scribal
signatures within colophons is clearly represented at the Paradiso and echoes the
increase in secular sottoscrizioni from the fifteenth through the sixteenth centuries.
It is clear that the Paradiso nuns learned their scribal production practices from
their friars, and looked to the narrative model of inscription-writing produced by
the friars when beginning their work. However, by the mid-Quattrocento, with
colophon use on the rise in Italian society at large, the nuns began to add more
information to the end of their texts, building on the existing scribal traditions at
their individual houses, but inserting themselves into the texts to a degree that their
spiritual brothers had not.
The Choice of Latin or Italian in Colophons

Nuns could also distinguish themselves through the language they chose to
write their colophon in, Latin or Italian. They did have a choice and each choice
carried meaning. It is true that sometimes colophons were simply copied out along
with the exemplar text, but this practice appears to have been more common in
the early Middle Ages, when more formal and archaic Latin inscriptions appear in
copied texts (and is still a choice of sorts). In looking at the language of the main
text, by definition, colophons in Italian belong primarily to devotional manuscripts
written in the vernacular; Latin to liturgical manuscripts. Language is dictated by
use. The Latin ligurgical texts were made to be used by a large community for for-
mal and ancient religious ritual. Devotional texts in the vernacular were made for
informal, personal use in meditation and spiritual contemplation. It is the difference
in language between official public ceremony (Latin) and intimate private devotion
(Italian), and a difference in how those acts are envisioned by the user and maker
of books. In the study group, almost twenty percent of the works are liturgical, and
of course in Latin. More than eighty percent of the works surveyed are devotional/
theological, and they are almost exclusively in the vernacular.44 It is not surprising
that works in Latin (largely liturgical/ceremonial) carry Latin colophons and that
works in the vernacular (largely devotional/theological) carry Italian colophons.
This continuity of language between the main text and the colophon inscription
makes sense. It is the switching between languages that is notable. When do nuns
switch languages between text and colophon? And why?
There are virtually no cases where the scribe copied a work in Latin and
left a colophon exclusively in Italian; however, in a number of cases the nun-
scribe completed a devotional work in the vernacular and switched to Latin in
the colophon. This formalized her inscription and perhaps signaled to the reader
than she was a learned copyist who, though she could copy a 320-folio devotional
work in Italian, was also versed in Latin. This switch happens a third of the time
in manuscripts produced before 1480, from a number of different houses and
Orders. In this earlier period, the inscriptions are usually fully written in Latin.
Pious Voices: Nun-scribes and the Language of Colophons 61

The aforementioned Suor Antonia Acciaiuoli of the Benedictine convent of San

Pier Maggiore, Florence, recorded her colophon twice (first in black, then red)
after copying out a vernacular translation of works attributed to Saint Augustine
in 142445: “Iste liber est sororis Antonie monialis monasterii Sancti Petri Maioris
de Florentia. Manibus suis scripsit. Explevit ipsum die secundo martii ad horam
vigesimam, die giovis, anno millesimo quartocientesimo vigesimo tertio. Rogate
Dominum pro eam [This book is Sister Antonia’s, nun of the monastery of San
Pier Maggiore in Florence. Written by her hands. Completed by her on the second
day of March at the twentieth hour, Thursday, in the year 1423. Pray to the Lord
for her].”46 Here Antonia is clearly schooled in Latin and demonstrates this by
copying her theological texts in Italian, then leaving her colophon in Latin. This
is not surprising, coming as she did from the wealthiest house in Florence, known
for its educated, well-born nuns. A colophon was also left by a Benedictine nun
of Verona, after copying out another work of Augustine’s in 1472, a vernacular
translation of his Civitate Dei (Genova, Biblioteca Civica Berio, MS m.r.Cf.2.16,
fol. 282r). Here the language of the colophon is a mix of Italian and Latin, though
the Latin is less formulaic than that found in the post-1480 inscriptions. “Finito il
libro di sancto Augustino XXII° de civitate Dei et ultimo a laude et reverentia di
Dio. Hunc veneranda soror scripsit Veronica librum Veronae in Sacro Spiritus alme
tuo’ e quindi la data ‘M°CCCCLXXII die XXVIII augusti [The twenty-second and
last book of Saint Augustine’s City of God is finished, in praise of and reverence to
God. This venerable sister Veronica of Santo Spirito in Verona wrote the book for
your souls, on the date 1472, the day of 28 August].” The aforementioned Domitilla
Bernabuzi is another example of a scribe copying a devotional/theological text in
the vernacular and leaving a Latin colophon in this pre-1480 period (see Fig. 3).
Again, her colophon reads “Ego soror Domicilla filia magnifici domini Francisci
Bernabutii de Faventia complevi hunc codicem die 21 decembris M°CCCC°74.”47
After 1480, when the switch to Latin-in-the-colophon takes place, the
inscriptions are often in a blend of Italian and Latin, where the Latin comprises
short formulaic phrases. The nuns are pulling standard colophon phrases off the
shelf—such as “Laus Deo,” “Deo gratias” “Referamus gratia Christi,” and the
previously discussed “Qui scripsit scribat” phrase, and tacking them on to the
beginning or end of their Italian colophon. In this later period, it seems to be less a
statement about nuns’ breadth of literacy, as it appears to be in the pre-1480 period,
than a statement about the appearance of being an educated and literate copyist
or imitating an older medieval tradition of Latin colophon use. A Latin colophon
inscription communicates that the scribe is educated. A transitional example comes
from the late Quattrocento. Dominican nun-scribe Serafina of San Jacopo di Ripoli
left a full Latin colophon in her vernacular copy of Vincenzo Ferrer’s Trattato della
vita spirituale: “Quod scripsit scribat, semper cum Domino vivat, vivat in celis
soror Seraphina cum Domino felix. Finis. Laus Deo. Amen [May she who wrote
this continue to write, live always with the Lord, and may she, Sister Seraphina,
62 Melissa Moreton

live happily in heaven with the Lord forever. The end. Praise to God. Amen].”48
Though this is a full Latin colophon, it is also an extremely formulaic series of
colophon phrases, which a nun-scribe like Serafina would have had access to at
San Jacopo, a house with a well-stocked convent library and scriptorium. Other
late fifteenth-century examples show a mix of Latin and Italian. Suor Cleofe of the
Paradiso who wrote out devotional/theological works in the vernacular and left a
number of mixed-language colophons in her early sixteenth-century texts, includ-
ing one from 1520 which reads: “Explicit liber iste per me suora Cleophe moniali
Paradissi. Scripto negli anni della incarnatione del nostro signore Yesu Christo M
CCCCC dicianove, si compié di scrivere a dì XV di março. Laus Deo sit semper.
Amen [This book was completed by me, Sister Cleof, nun of the Paradiso. Written
in the year of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ 1519, finished writing on
the day 15 of March. Praise God always. Amen].”49 The Latin colophon, whether
mixed or written entirely in the Latin, serves to formalize the end of the book and
embellish the appearance of the nun’s work. Here again, from the 1480s onward, the
nun-scribe is less likely to feel compelled to draft an entire colophon in Latin. This
may have to do with the changes in Latin and vernacular literacies in the society
at large, which shift dramatically in the late fifteenth century.50 Italian literacy was
on the rise, fueled by and fueling the new incunable production in Florence and
other Italian cities. Are the nuns a product of this or responding to a growing taste
for written communication in the vernacular?

Colophons took a number of forms and served a number of purposes for late
medieval and Renaissance nuns. For some, they were a means to express piety;
for others, a vehicle for expressing erudition, creativity or personal expression;
for a few, a tool for furthering personal ambitions. This diversity of voices echoes
the shifting demographics in nuns’ houses—patterns that transformed radically
from the early 1400s through the sixteenth century. In Florence, where roughly
eighty percent of my colophon evidence comes from, convent populations grew
dramatically due to a number of economic, religious, social, and political fac-
tors. As noted, the co-incidence in the rise in convent populations and the rise in
nuns’ book production in this period is no accident. In Florence alone, there were
twenty-five hundred nuns accounted for in 1515—in contrast to the five hundred
nuns accounted for in the 1330s.51 Young girls and women, educated in convent
schools or tutored privately at home, were literate, educated in the arts, could
write, and often looked for a means to express themselves within the confines
of the convent. After entering monastic life (most of them involuntarily), many
outwardly associated themselves with their well-born families and cultivated their
familial connections of patronage, exchange, and expression. Of the many craft
industries established at female houses—which included embroidery, silkwork,
the production of devotional objects—book work satisfied this new demographic
Pious Voices: Nun-scribes and the Language of Colophons 63

of women. Aside from being important for the material, economic, and political
advancement of the house, manuscript production was also a means by which
educated and artistic nuns could express themselves—in increasingly personal-
ized ways by the late fifteenth-century. The convents that had an active culture of
book production were some of the wealthiest and best-educated in late medieval
and Renaissance Florence.52 The nuns involved in book production, whether from
well-born families or not, were necessarily literate, educated, and held special skill
sets that set them apart from their fellow sisters and often marked them for leader-
ship within their houses. Several of these important prioresses and abbesses had
worked in book production at their houses before rising through the ranks of their
communities. San Jacopo nun-scribe Angela Rucellai was twice prioress. Nun-
scribes Piera de’ Medici of Santa Verdiana and the young, aspiring Paradiso nun
Cecilia Diacceto, daughter of Florentine humanist Francesco Cattani da Diacceto,
became abbesses of their monasteries. In conclusion, nuns’ colophons should not
be dismissed as simply formulaic expressions. The range in colophons reflects the
diversity of women who were called to or placed in convent life in fifteenth- and
sixteenth-century Italy and demonstrates their adaptability to trends in both their
religious community and the larger secular society. Some voices were pious, some
political, but all were working within the context of their religious institutions to
achieve their aims.
List of Manuscripts in the Survey of Nuns’ Colophons
and Cited in the Essay

Manuscripts not in the survey, but cited in the essay are noted with an asterisk.
All other manuscripts are manuscripts in the Survey of Nuns’ Colophons. Manu-
scripts in the Survey that are specifically cited in this essay are noted in italics
in the Appendix.

Bergamo, Biblioteca Civica Angelo Mai MA 113

Bologna, Monastero del Corpus Domini, MS s. s.
Bologna, Monastero del Corpus Domini, MS s. s. (2)
Cremona, Biblioteca Statale, MS Gov.197
Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Acquisti e doni 85
Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Conventi Soppressi 90
Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Conventi Soppressi 353
Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Conventi Soppressi 466
Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Conventi Soppressi 469
Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Conventi Soppressi Vallom-
brosa 235
Florence, Biblioteca Moreniana, MS Moreni 219
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS II_130
64 Melissa Moreton

*Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS II.II.391

Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS II.II.393
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS II.III.270
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Banco Rari 322
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conventi Soppressi B.II.1719
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conventi Soppressi B.IV.1503
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conventi Soppressi C.IV.1437
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conventi Soppressi C.V.1489
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conventi Soppressi D.I.1326
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conventi Soppressi D.I.1631
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conventi Soppressi D.7.344
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conventi Soppressi D.II.1434
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conventi Soppressi D.II.1527
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conventi Soppressi E.I.1323
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conventi Soppressi E.I.1324
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conventi Soppressi E.V.1882
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conventi Soppressi G.II.1441
*Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conventi Soppressi E.I.1336
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conventi Soppressi G.VII.1493
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Magliabechiano XXXVIII.93
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Magliabechiano XXXVIII.128
*Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Palatino 44
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Palatino 75
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Palatino 77
Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 1267
Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 1291
Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 1338
Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 1345
Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 1381
Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 1391
Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 1401 (Q.II.8)
Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 1709
Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 1794
Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 1795
Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 2102
Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 2280
Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 2627
Florence, Museo di San Marco, MS 630
Florence, Museo di San Marco, MS 634 Corale P
Genova, Biblioteca Civica Berio, MS m.r.Cf.2.16
Lawrence, Kansas (USA), University of Kansas, Spencer Library MS C 66
Oxford, Bodleian, MS Lyell 73
Pious Voices: Nun-scribes and the Language of Colophons 65

Padua, Biblioteca Civica, MS C.M.30

*Padua, Biblioteca del Seminario, MS 542, I
Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS 17323
Pavia, Biblioteca Universitaria, MS Aldini 353
Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, MS Palatino 23
Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, MS Palatino 84
Prato, Conservatorio/ Monastero di San Niccolò
Rome, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Varia 24 (574)
San Rafael, California, Convent Archive of the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael
Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Ross. 280
Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Ross. 941
Vincenza (province), Private Collection, MS 18
Verona, Biblioteca Civica, MS 1196
Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek MS 1923

1 The term colophon came into Latin from the Greek kolophon, meaning sum-
mit or finishing touch. Kolophon was also a hill town in Lydia, Western Asia
Minor. The term is generally understood to have been in common use by the
mid seventeenth century, though colophon use—especially in Italy—was
common in both secular and religious production by the fifteenth century.
2 Pamela Robinson, Catalogue of Dated and Datable Manuscripts c. 737–1600
in Cambridge Libraries (Cambridge, UK, 1988), pp. 5–12. In religious book
production, colophon use appeared with increasing regularity beginning in the
ninth century as Carolingian scribal practices flourished.
3 The survey of two hundred manuscripts was compiled for my 2013 dissertation,
entitled “‘Scritto di bellissima lettera’: Nuns’ Book Production in Fifteenth and
Sixteenth-Century Italy” (University of Iowa). The survey gathered information
on all known manuscripts made by nuns in the place and period. Approximately
sixty percent were devotional/theological texts, thirty percent liturgical, ten
percent administrative/archival. Colophon information was not available for
all of the two hundred manuscripts, since the location of some manuscripts is
not known and for others, the author was unable to consult them. The study in
this essay is based on an analysis of approximately sixty colophons identified in
the larger group of manuscripts; these are listed in the Appendix. Eighty-seven
percent of the colophon manuscripts were devotional/ theological, thirteen
percent were liturgical. Eighty percent of these colophons were from houses
in Florence, just over sixteen percent were from central and northern Italy
(Lucca, Prato, Bologna, Verona, Pavia, Vicenza, Venice), and three percent are
not identified with a location. In the larger study of two hundred manuscripts,
just over half are from Florence, so Florentine production accounts for a larger
66 Melissa Moreton

percentage of the evidence in the colophon study than it does in the larger group.
These numbers shift with the addition of each new manuscript to the group,
and I expect to see areas outside of Florence better represented in the decades
to come as new manuscripts are added to the canon, especially in Lombardy,
Venice, Rome, Umbria, and southern Italy. For Florentine manuscripts (eighty
percent of the colophons in the study), information was drawn primarily from
examination of the manuscripts themselves. Information on manuscripts
throughout Italy were drawn from the records of the Manoscritti datati series
and other Italian manuscript catalogues including Rosanna Miriello’s catalogue
of manuscripts from Santa Brigida del Paradiso, I manoscritti del Monastero
del Paradiso di Firenze (Florence, 2007). Other important sources were Luisa
Miglio’s “‘A mulieribus conscriptos arbitror’: donne e scrittura,” in Miglio,
Governare l’alfabeto: Donne e cultura scritta nel medioevo (Rome, 2008), pp.
173–206; Miglio and Palma’s site Donne e cultura scritta nel medioevo (http://
edu.let.unicas.it/womediev) and primary sources that cited book production at
nuns’ houses. For those manuscripts in collections outside of Florence, except
in the case of Paris, the study generally relied on photos of the colophons or a
published transcription of the colophon text.
4 For more on the Paradiso manuscripts, see the catalogue of the Florentine
Bridgettines’ library by Rosanna Miriello, I manoscritti del Monastero del
Paradiso di Firenze (Florence, 2007). All Paradiso manuscripts discussed in
this essay are catalogued in Miriello’s monograph.
5 See Sharon Strocchia, Nuns and Nunneries in Renaissance Florence (Baltimore,
2009), p. xii.
6 The rise in general colophon use also coincides with the advent and growth
of printed books. The inclusion of colophons in early printed books was one
of the many aspects of book production borrowed from manuscript culture
(though the earliest incunables printed in Italy (1460s) did not always carry
a colophon). It can be said that, as colophon use became more common and
increasingly standardized in print books, it did have an impact on the inclusion
of colophons in manuscript books, both secular and monastic. However, this
shift was probably not felt until the early sixteenth century in Italy. The rise
in nuns’ scribal colophons in the late fifteenth century likely owes more to the
increase in nuns’ self-identification and their particular demographic than to
the singular influence of colophons in printed books which were not widely
collected in convent libraries until the sixteenth century.
7 By the late sixteenth century, manuscript production had declined in women’s
houses, probably due to the restrictions placed on women’s mobility, reformist
efforts restricting craft production, access to family, patrons and raw materi-
als. Restrictions were also placed on women’s interaction with secular col-
laborators (illuminators, binders, scribes), with whom they had traditionally
Pious Voices: Nun-scribes and the Language of Colophons 67

collaborated to produce books. The growth of the printed book market and
the publication of handwriting handbooks also lowered the demand for books
from convent scriptoria, some of which had produced devotional manuscripts
for a secular market. For a discussion of the reasons for the early sixteenth-
century decline in secular (not religious) manuscript production, see Armando
Petrucci “Copisti e libri manoscritti dopo l’avvento della stampa,” in Scribi
e colofoni: Le sottoscrizioni di copisti dalle origini all’avvento della stampa.
Atti del Seminario di Erice (23–28 October 1993) X Colloquio del Comité
International de Paléographie Latine, eds. E. Condello and G. De Gregorio
(Spoleto, 1995), pp. 235–266.
8 Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 2102, fol. i’v
9 Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 1794, fols. 369v-370r. Thank you to
Rosanno Miriello for passing this shelf mark to me. Miriello is cataloguing
Suor Paola’s two volume set of Bernard of Clairvaux’s Sermons on the Song of
Songs as part of the Manoscritti datati series, catalogues of dated manuscripts
in Italian State collections.
10 Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conv.Soppr. D.7. 344, fol. 203v.
11 Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana MS 1291, fol. 141v.
12 Thanks to Brian Richardson for this reference. There may be no shelfmark for
this manuscript. Lelmi (or de Selmi) was from the convent of San Clemente,
Prato (originally Benedictine), though she later moved with her sisters to the
Dominican convent of San Niccolò in Prato.
13 Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conv.Soppr. B.IV.1503, fol. 117r.
14 Florence, Biblioteca Moreniana, MS Moreni 219, fol. 196r.
15 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, MS Palatino 84, fol. 144v.
16 Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS II.III.270, fol. 137v.
17 Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS II_130, fol. 154v. Prieghovi non
ghuardiate alla rusticità della lettera, ma pigliate la sana e verace doctrina
data dalla bocca della verità e della sua gloriosa madre virgho Maria alla
nostra madre sancta Brigida. Suor Cleofe also uses the phrase in a devotional
manuscript copied between 1502 and 1504, saying that the book was written
with extreme effort and discomfort, the major part by the light of an oil lamp,
“Iscricti con grandissima faticha (et) disagio, la maggior parte a llume di lu-
cerna.” (Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conv.Soppr. G.II.1441,
fol. 204r). The manuscript includes Books 3 and 4 of Simone Fidati da Cascia’s
Esposizione sui Vangeli and two short extracts from other devotional texts (the
Miracolo del Santissimo Sacramento and an extract from Book 2 of Enrico
Susone’s Orologio della sapienza, added after the colophon entry). Cleofe
states that she began the 204-folio work 12 November 1502 and finished it 28
October 1504, a note which provides valuable information about production
68 Melissa Moreton

rates and practices. This is just over four pages a week (two folios, recto and
verso). By scriptorium standards, this is a slow rate of production, even for
this size manuscript [approximately 11.5 x 8.25 inches with 28–30 lines per
page]. The script is a well-spaced littera textualis with cursive influence, a
relatively fast script to write in. The rate of production, the colophon informa-
tion noting that Cleofe worked by lamplight and the fact that the pages are
ruled inconsistently suggests that she copied the work as a devotional act,
as she could, page by page, after Vespers or in between the early morning
Hours. The intention here is not to complete the work as quickly as possible,
but to work in a steady and mindful manner, with the scribe meditating on
each word and phrase of the text. Despite being created privately, perhaps in
her cell (rather than in the communal scriptorium space), Cleofe notes on fol.
206v that the work belongs to the monastery, but says that those who read it
should pray for the scribe (“Questo libro è del monasterio di Sancta Brigida,
decto Paradiso, chi llo leggie prieghi Iddio per chi ll’à scricto”). The volume
is the second in the set of two manuscripts she made. Volume One contains
Books I and II of Simone Fidati’s Esposizione sui Vangeli (Florence, Biblioteca
Nazionale Centrale, MS Conv.Soppr. E.I.1336). Suor Cleofe’s birth name was
Ginevra di Lorenzo Lenzi. For catalogue entries, see Miriello, pp. 119–20
and 131–32. For information on the speed of scribes, see Gumbert, J.P. “The
Speed of Scribes” in Scribi e colofoni: Le sottoscrizioni di copisti dalle origini
all’avvento della stampa. Atti del Seminario di Erice (23–28 October 1993) X
Colloquio del Comité International de Paléographie Latine, eds. E. Condello
and G. De Gregorio (Spoleto, 1995): 57–69.
18 San Rafael, California, Convent Archive of the Dominican Sisters of San
Rafael. The author did not consult this manuscript. The colophon is cited in
Italian Women Artists: From Renaissance to Boroque, eds. Frick, Biancani
and Nicholson (New York, 2007), p. 97.
19 Florence, Museo di San Marco, MS 630, fol. 259v.
20 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, Palatino 84, fol. 144v.
21 Convent chronicles and necrologies commonly served this purpose, recording a
nun’s “good death” and deeds in life. Convent chronicles have been preserved
from several nun-bookmakers’ houses including Le Murate and San Jacopo di
Ripoli, Florence as have convent necrologies from San Jacopo di Ripoli and
the Corpus Domini in Venice. For published studies of convent chronicles and
necrologies, see the work of Saundra Weddle, Kate Lowe, Sharon Strocchia
and Daniel Bornstein.
22 Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 1709, fol. 26r.
23 Oxford, Bodleian, MS Lyell 73, fol. 84r.
24 Private Collection in Province of Vicenza, MS 18, fol. 45r.
Pious Voices: Nun-scribes and the Language of Colophons 69

25 Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Conv.Soppr. 466, fol. 179v.

26 Prato, Conservatorio and Monastero di San Niccolò. The colophon reads: “Io
suor Innocenza de Selmi da Prato indegna serva di Gesú à scripto, notato,
miniato questo libro, guadagnato le carte e la legatura del libro, tutto sopra el
suo lavoro ordinario, e ne fo un presente alle Cantore con pacti gli cantino una
messa de morte el 7o giorno della sua sepultura e all’altre domanda per grazia
una volta e 7 psalmi penitenziali. Mi arete excusat[a] non sta come vorrei. Nel’
anno del Signore 1553 alli 23 di novembre [I, Sister Innocenza Lelmi of Prato,
unworthy servant of Jesus Christ, wrote out, copied the notes and decorated this
book, paid for its paper and its binding, all in addition to her ordinary work,
and I make a present of it to the singers on the condition that they sing for her
a requiem mass on the seventh day after her burial, and she kindly asks the
other nuns [to say] once the seven penitential psalms. Forgive me: it is not as
I would wish. 23 November in the year of Our Lord 1553].” Colophon cited
in Elissa Weaver, Convent Theatre in Early Modern Italy (Cambridge, UK,
2002), p. 36.
27 Bib. Ricc. 2102 and 1291. Other examples include: “Qui scripsit scribat,
semper semper [sic] cum Domino vivat, vivat in celis semper cum Domino
felix.” from Observant Franciscan nun-scribe Illuminata Bembo of the Corpus
Domini, Bologna, in 1469 (Bologna, Monastero del Corpus Domini, MS s.
s. (2), fol. 107); “Qui scripsit scribat (et) semper cum Domino vivat.” from
Paradiso scribe Cleofe in 1482, in her collection of sermons which includes
Ambrogio Traversari’s vernacular translation of Efrem’s Sermoni (Florence,
Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Conv.Soppr.353, fol.150); Paradiso nun-
scribe Cecilia’s copy a few years later of a collection of sermons containing
the same translation of Efrem’s Sermoni (possibly a copy of Cleofe’s exemplar
using similar colophon language) “Qui scrisit scribatta [sic] (et) seper [sic]
cum domino vivat.” (Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conv.Soppr.
D.II.1434, fol. 69r); “Qui scripsit scribat semper, cum Domino vivat, vivat in
celis, soror Lippa nomine felix” from Dominican nun-scribe Lippa in her late
fifteenth-century Hymnal (Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS
Ross. 280, fol. 112v); and “Quod scripsit scribat, semper cum Domino vivat,
vivat in celis soror Seraphina cum Domino felix.” from Dominican nun-scribe
Serafina of San Jacopo di Ripoli in her copy of Vincenzo Ferrer’s Trattato
della vita spirituale (Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Palatino
75, fol. 38v).
28 Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 1291.
29 Florence, Bib. Ricc. 1291, fol. 141v. It is not clear, if she was normally ad-
dressed as “Checha” or whether she uses it to fit with the rhyme. Another manu-
script in Checha’s hand, identified by Rosanna Miriello, carries a colophon,
but not her name, stating it was finished “Anno Domini MºCCCCLXXIIII die
70 Melissa Moreton

X mensis octubris.” (Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 1391, fol. 201v).

Thanks to Rosanna Miriello for alerting me to this manuscript, which she con-
nected to Suor Francesca based on her hand. Miriello’s catalogue data for both
manuscripts is published in volume 3 of the catalogues of dated manuscripts
in Italian libraries, I manoscritti datati d’Italia della Biblioteca Riccardiana di
Firenze. II. Mss. 1001–1400. De Robertis and Miriello, eds. (Florence, 1999),
schede nos. 52 and 77.
30 Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 1338, fol. 96r; thanks to Elissa Weaver
for help in clarifying this translation. The Paradiso nun-scribe is unnamed. Her
female hand is known only through the feminine pronoun she uses in her poem.
The manuscript dates to the early Quattrocento, after the friars had established
the scriptorium, but before the nuns were actively working there. She copied
this poem in three of her manuscripts: Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana MS
1338, fol. 96r, Biblioteca Riccardiana MS 1345, fol. 153r and Biblioteca Ric-
cardiana MS 2280, fol. 109v. Copy Florence Ricc.1345 has ‘Cche’ in fourth
to last line; Copy Bib. Ricc. 2280 has ‘a<i>tala’ in last line.
31 Apparently she liked all the books “so much.” Only one—I believe the first of
the three (Bib. Ricc. 1345)—includes titles that may reference figures in the
poem. This is a compilation of texts that includes saints’ lives and writings on
the Virgin Mary. Though Saint John is not specifically mentioned in the list
of Vitae, he may appear in the poem because of his special position as patron
saint of Florence, if the poem refers to San Giovanni Battista “who said so
much that was good” and not Saint John the Evangelist. Another Paradiso
nun-scribe, Raffaella, includes San Giovanni Battista in the colophon attached
to her copy of Gregory’s Regola pastorale, which she says she finished on 24
September 1488 in the name of “messer Yesu Christo e della gloriosa vergine
Maria, madre di Dio, e di messere sancto Giovanni Batista” (Florence, Bib-
lioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Acq. e doni 85, fol. 1r-v).
32 Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Conv. Sopp. Vallombrosa
codex 235, fol. 142v. See Miglio, p. 197.
33 The work was destined for the male Vallombrosan house of Santa Maria di
Tagliafuni, outside of Florence, whose abbot notes that he commissioned the
missal. However, Piera states that it was made for the nuns of Santa Verdiana.
The Badia of Tagliafuni was located in Val d’Arno di Sopra, within the diocese
of Fiesole. The inscription underneath Piera’s colophon on fol. 142 states, in a
different hand, “Iste liber est monasterii sancte Mariae de Tagliafunis quem
fecit fieri dominus Iohannes Nicholai de Bençis abbas dicti monasterii sub
anno M° CCCC° XL° VII°.” The suggestion here is that the abbot of Taglia-
funi commissioned the work from the nuns of Santa Verdiana, though this
contradicts Piera’s colophon note that the book was “to be held” by the Santa
Verdiana nuns.
Pious Voices: Nun-scribes and the Language of Colophons 71

34 Sharon Strocchia’s work has uncovered these connections between Piera de’
Medici and Medici patronage. See her forthcoming “Abbess Piera de’ Medici
and Her Kin: Gender, Gifts, and Patronage in Renaissance Florence” (Renais-
sance Studies, 2013).
35 Verona, Biblioteca Civica, MS 1196, fol. 30v. Before the colophon is the text
“Florentie di 7 martij” which likely refers to the date and place Correr wrote
the letter. Correr (b. Venice 1409–1464) was in Florence (1447 or earlier) as
an apostolic protonotary under Pope Eugenius IV. In 1448 he joined the abbey
of San Zeno in Verona, where he served as abbot and lived until his death in
1464. Bernabuzi writes his name as “Corner” (another famous Venetian fam-
ily) but the letter is attributed to Gregory Correr.
36 Fol. 1r. Beginning of text missing. This is first remaining folio. The note sug-
gests that this is her or her community’s translation, not a copy of someone
else’s translation.
37 This choice is particularly striking given the fact that the humanist minis-
cule was developed for Latin humanist texts as an alternative to the gothic
bookhand prevalent in the period. That this is a humanist script in the vernacu-
lar is also striking, since it is more commonly reserved for Latin texts. Some
Books of Hours commissioned from secular scribes utilized the humanist
miniscule, but the script was not commonly used in convent scriptoria both
because of the training involved and because of its common association with
secular humanist texts. Bernabuzi’s shaping of the words of the explicit into
a triangle also suggests she was familiar with early printed books, which
commonly used this decorative typographic device to set off the explicit or
colophon from the main text. This practice came out of manuscript produc-
tion, but was refined and popularized in the age of the incunable. As a girl
growing up in an aristocratic, central or northern Italian household in the
1460s and 70s, Bernabuzi would have seen early printed books, which were
increasingly prevalent in the region from the 1470s onward. Milan, Venice,
Bologna, Ferrara and Florence had active presses by the early 1470s, Venice
by the late 1460s.
38 Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek MS 1923, fol. 89r.
39 Kathleen Arthur is currently researching this manuscript, but it has not yet
been attributed to a specific house. Her early findings were presented at the
Southeastern College Art Conference in 2005, with an abstract published in
the Southeastern College Art Conference Review, vol. XIV, no. 5 (2005), 516.
See also Miglio, p. 197. Many art historians identify Ormani as the miniatur-
ist of the manuscript, and it is discussed as one of the earliest female self-
portraits in the Renaissance canon. Many, including Vasari, cite her portrait.
Few discuss her. Based on the text in the scroll, evidence in the miniatures
and other textual evidence, I do believe Ormani is the scribe (one of at least
72 Melissa Moreton

two who completed the manuscript). If she is the “daughter of Ormanno,” it

is possible that she did not have a surname (which can help place her socio-
economically). She simply identified herself using her patronymic name,
connecting herself to her family through her father’s first name. Stylistic
evidence in the manuscript illumination and painting suggests it is northern
Italian or influenced by northern Italian (especially Lombardic) manuscript
40 See Strocchia, Nuns; Weaver, Convent Theatre, especially chapter one, pp.
9–48; Gabriella Zarri “Monasteri femminili e città (secoli XV-XVIII)” in
Storia d’Italia. Annali 9: La Chiesa e il potere politico dal Medioevo all’età
contemporanea, eds. G. Chittolini and G. Miccoli (Turin, 1986), pp. 359–429.
41 See Miriello, I manoscritti del Monastero del Paradiso di Firenze.
42 The total of sixty-nine works from all religious account for fewer than sixty
nine manuscripts, since many of these are composite bindings with more than
one complete work in them attributed to different nun-scribes, and sometimes
43 Paradiso friar-scribe Antonio di Dino da Palaia’s works by Saint Bridget include
the colophon language “preghate per me” (Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale
Centrale, MS II.II.391, fol. 131v); Frate Tommaso di Marco’s copy of Pope
Gregory I’s Dialogues include the appeal for prayer “Horate per me” (Flor-
ence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Palatino 44, fol. 133v).
44 In general, there were more devotional than liturgical books in use in religious
houses by the late Quattrocento. Further complicating the overall numbers of
manuscripts is that women attached their colophons to devotional and theo-
logical texts much more often than to liturgical manuscripts, so this can bias
the overall image of production. This same evidence was born out in women’s
houses north of the Alps when Cynthia Cyrus charted the occurrence of colo-
phons with male and female scribal signatures, based on textual genre, in her
Scribes for Women’s Convents in Late Medieval Germany (Toronto, 2009).
45 These include Italian translations of the Pseudo-Augustine’s Soliloquia, short
extracts from Augustine’s Enarrationes in Psalmos, extracts from Il Maestru-
zzo (the vernacular translation of Bartolomeo da San Concordio’s Summa de
casibus conscientiae). The date is recorded in the Florentine style as 1423, but
corresponds to 1424 in the modern calendar.
46 Oxford, Bodleian, MS Lyell 73, fol. 84r.
47 Verona, Biblioteca Civica 1196, fol. 30v. Bernabuzi’s 1474 colophon is similar
in formula to a colophon found in a late thirteenth-century copy of the Old Tes-
tament, from nun-scribe Agnese Scarabella of Sant’ Agata di Vanzo in Padua.
Scarabella’s colophon reads “Ego soror Agnes Scarabela de Sancte Agathe
de Vantio fecit hoc opus. Anno Domini millesimo ducentesimo nonagesimo
Pious Voices: Nun-scribes and the Language of Colophons 73

septimo indicione decima” (Padua, Biblioteca del Seminario, MS 542, I, fol.

193v). This manuscript is not included in the survey, since it predates 1400.
48 Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Palatino 75, fol. 38v.
49 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, Palatino 23, fol. 188v. These also include Flor-
ence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Conv.Soppr. E.I.1323 from 1501 and
Padua, Biblioteca Civica, MS C.M.30 from 1507.
50 The formalizing of a work at the colophon can also happen through a change
in script. Almost eighty five percent of the study’s manuscripts were written
in a littera textualis or gothic bookhand, with much variation in the level of
simplification and influence from other scripts. If a nun wanted to spruce up
the end of her book, she might use a more formal littera textualis. This choice
could serve to formalize the inscription and set it apart from the rest of the text.
The more formal the inscription, the longer it took to write out. A “simplified”
littera textualis (with a reduced number of penstrokes) that used abbreviations
to save space and time took less time to write than a highly formal littera tex-
tualis where the number of penstrokes were not reduced and the letters were
fully spelled out.
51 Strocchia, Nuns, p. xii.
52 Florentine convents with evidence of book production include (listing wealthi-
est houses first) San Pier Maggiore, San Jacopo di Ripoli, Sant’ Ambrogio,
Santa Verdiana, San Francesco, Santa Lucia, Santa Maria a Monticelli, San
Gaggio, Santa Brigida del Paradiso, Santa Marta a Montughi, San Giovanni
Evangelista, and Santa Maria del Fiore detto di Lapo. For a listing of female
houses in Florence by wealth, see Gene Brucker “Monasteries, Friaries, and
Nunneries in Quattrocento Florence” in Christianity and the Renaissance,
eds. Verdon and Henderson (Syracuse, 1990), pp. 47–49; and Strocchia, Nuns,
p. 76. The assessment of wealth is based on the 1427 Catasto records which
exclude the Murate (one of the wealthiest houses by the late fifteenth century)
and post-1427 foundations Santa Maria degli Angeli, Santa Caterina da Siena,
and San Vincenzo­—houses whose nuns also produced books.