Boston Public Library Returns a Manuscript, a Leaf, and a Book to Italy

BOSTON - April 19, 2017 [updated] Today Boston Public Library announced the return of three items from its Special Collections to the State Archives of Venice, Italy and the Library of Ludovico II De Torres in Monreale, Italy. During a repatriation ceremony with Mayor Martin J. Walsh and representatives from Homeland Security, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the Italian Carabinieri, Boston Public Library formally returned the Mariegola della Scuola di Santa Maria della Misericordiaa medieval manuscript dating to 1392; an illuminated leaf from the manuscript Mariegola della Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista, dating from between 1418-1422; and Varii de natvralibvs rebvs libelli, a  collection of works by Bernardino Telesio, published in 1590.

“These three items represent Italy’s rich history, and I’m pleased that through the cooperation of the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Boston Public Library was able to ensure the safe return of these artifacts to their rightful homes in Italy,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “I thank everyone involved in this successful process.” 

 “Boston Public Library took action upon learning of the claims and that the provenance of these historical treasures was incomplete, and we are very pleased to report that these items are returning home to Italy after being cared for by the BPL for decades,” said David Leonard, President of the Boston Public Library.

“Boston Public Library purchased these rare and important materials in good faith for the public to see and study and we took our stewardship of them seriously during the many years that they were in our care. We are fully committed to their safe return to Italy so they can continue to be utilized and appreciated by new researchers and scholars,” said Beth Prindle, Boston Public Library’s Head of Special Collections.  

Boston Public Library legitimately purchased all three items from well-known rare book dealers during the mid-twentieth century. Mariegola della Scuola di Santa Maria della Misericordia was acquired in 1960 from Philip Duschenes of New York, the illuminated manuscript leaf was obtained in 1955 from the Italian dealer Olschki, and the Bernardino Telesio volume was purchased in 1980 from Michael R. Thompson of Los Angeles. The medieval manuscript and leaf became part of the library’s Medieval and Early Renaissance Manuscripts Collection of Distinction,a notable collection which totals nearly 250 volumes and single leaves dating from the 10th through the early 16thcenturies. These special collections materials are administered through the BPL’s Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, which holds nearly 250,000 rare books and one million manuscripts.

Questions about the Mariegolas’ provenance emerged through new independent scholarship and a recent project funded by the library to research and describe its medieval manuscripts holdings in preparation for electronic cataloging and digitization. The Mariegola della Scuola di Santa Maria della Misericordia was written in Bologna in 1392 for the use of the scuola (confraternity) of Our Lady of Mercy at Valverde, a spiritual and charitable brotherhood.  It was part of the scuola’s collection until the confraternity was dissolved in 1803, at which point it passed into the collection of the State Archive of Venice. Beginning in 1879, the manuscript was on permanent display in the Archive’s Sala Diplomatica Regina Margherita. The manuscript was taken off exhibition in the late 1940s, at which time several manuscripts disappeared under unknown circumstances, including the Mariegola della Scuola di Santa Maria della Misericordia. The second mariegola, a single illuminated parchment leaf on vellum from Mariegola della Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista, had been removed at an unidentified date from a larger manuscript still held by the Archivio di Stato in Venice. 

The third item, Telesio’s Varii de natvralibvs rebvs libelli, is a rare printed collection of works by the Italian philosopher and natural scientist Bernardino Telesio. It bears the signature of Cardinal Ludovico II De Torres (1552-1609), who served as Archbishop of Monreale, Italy and donated his personal book collection. The BPL had recently digitized the volume and made it available through the Internet Archive; the Ludovico II De Torres Library curator recognized the Cardinal’s signature while viewing the book online and made inquiries about the book through government channels.

Boston Public Library and the City of Boston worked collaboratively with the U.S. Attorney’s office and Homeland Security to coordinate the effort to contact and return the items to the State Archives of Venice and The Library of Ludovico II De Torres in Monreale, respectively. 

About BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY 
Boston Public Library has a Central Library, twenty-four branches, map center, business library, and a website filled with digital content and services. Established in 1848, the Boston Public Library has pioneered public library service in America. It was the first large free municipal library in the United States, the first public library to lend books, the first to have a branch library, and the first to have a children’s room. Each year, the Boston Public Library hosts thousands of programs and serves millions of people. All of its programs and exhibitions are free and open to the public. At the Boston Public Library, books are just the beginning. To learn more, visit bpl.org.

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