The majestic liturgical book known as the Lezionario Farnese, produced in Rome shortly after the mid-sixteenth century for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, represents a high point for the art of illumination. Given its size – the work is of monumental proportions – and the wealth of embellishments, we may consider the Lectionary a codex of exceptional merit. Splendid embellishments By commissioning this truly sumptuous work, Alessandro Farnese brought into being a codex which, for hundreds of years, served as one of the Missals used by the Popes and princes of the Church during the solemnities held at the Sistine Chapel. In its splendid full-page illuminations and wonderful gilded frames – adorned with putti, masks and floral motifs – we note the influences of the grand art of the Renaissance and, in particular, the work of Michelangelo and Raphael. A widely acclaimed illuminator With its impressive embellishments, the Lezionario Farnese represents one of the masterpieces of Giulio Clovio (1498-1578), the most widely acclaimed illuminator of the late sixteenth century. Clovio was praised by the Florentine historian, Giorgio Vasari, in the second edition of his Lives of the Artists, as the "Michelangelo in little". Vasari cites the Farnese Book of Hours and the Lectionary as the most important of the works of Clovio, who, after leaving his native Croatia in 1516, achieved great renown as an illuminator.
The Lectionary was a commission from Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589), the grandson of Pope Paul III Farnese (who ordained Alessandro as cardinal at the age of fourteen). In the early 1540’s, Clovio entered the service of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, considered by historians the most important patron and connoisseur of the arts of mid-sixteenth century Rome. Clovio served the cardinal for the rest of his life, and bequeathed his fine collection of codices and artworks to his patron.
The original binding went missing with the arrival of Napoleon’s troops. The codex was then re-bound in 1809-1810 in a red velvet Neo-Gothic cover of considerable beauty and refinement (the work of the London binders, Benjamin II and James Smith). With wrought and gilded silver ferrules and clasps and, on the front cover, the polychrome porcelain coats of arms of the Towneley family, the last owners of this work.
We have 2 facsimiles of the manuscript "Farnese Lectionary":
- Lezionario Farnese (Vermeil Binding) facsimile edition published by Franco Cosimo Panini Editore, 2008
- Lezionario Farnese (Silver Binding) facsimile edition published by Franco Cosimo Panini Editore, 2008