Vita di Santa Chiari vergine [Vita di Santa Chiari vergine].
MS 4, Detail: St. Clare
Vita di Santa Chiara vergine


Ugolino Verino. Vita di Santa Chiara vergine. Italian.  Florence, Italy: 1496.
Illuminated manuscript on parchment. 39 leaves. 21 x 13 cm.  Single column of 19 lines.  Textblock: 14 x 8.5 cm.
Bound in contemporary blind-tooled leather. Bridwell MS 4.


The Vita di Santa Chiara vergine was hand written by the author, Ugolino Verino (1438-1516), who presented it to the sisters at the Convento di Santa Chiara Novella in Florence in 1496. The text is a rare vernacular Italian biography of St. Clare of Assisi (1194-1253), follower of St. Francis and founder of the Franciscan convents of the “Poor Clares.” Verino’s book was cited in Lorenzo Bartolozzi’s sixteenth-century biography of the author (Florence, Codex Ricciardiano 910), but prior to its modern rediscovery, the text was believed to have been lost to the intervening centuries.

The manuscript presumably remained at Santa Chiara Novella until the convent was dissolved in 1808. It was probably still in Florence when it was acquired by the fifth Lord Vernon of Sudbury (1803-1866), the noted scholar and editor of the works by that city’s greatest poet, Dante Alighieri. Lord Vernon’s library was sold at Sotheby’s in 1918, where the manuscript was purchased by Charles H. St John Hornby (1867-1946), the founder of the Ashendene Press. Hornby did not immediately recognize the historical significance of the manuscript, but in 1921, prompted by the eminent Franciscan scholar Walter Seton, he decided to publish the Vita di Santa Chiara vergine in a fine limited edition, complete with Seton’s scholarly notes.

In 1946, Major John Roland Abbey (1896-1969) purchased the Verino manuscript along with 28 other books from the late Hornby’s collection to form the core of what became an outstanding collection of Italian Renaissance manuscripts. After Major Abbey’s death in 1969, it passed quietly to the dealer Harry Levinson in California and thence to Bridwell Library. Thus, the manuscript now complements the library’s great Hornby Ashendene Collection, which consists of complete sets of the books produced by the press as well as the founder’s archives, working proofs, correspondence, and the sturdy hand press upon which he printed the Ashendene books.

The opening page of the manuscript is richly decorated in early Florentine Renaissance style. Borders of colorful flowers and gold fill the left margin and the bottom of the page, where a painted roundel bears the charming image of St. Clare.

The Convento di Santa Chiara Novella was founded in 1452, and was decorated by the famous Renaissance artists Pietro Perugino and Giuliano da Sangallo. Perugino’s altarpiece inspired Giorgio Vasari (Lives of the Artists, 1550) to tell the story of how the poor nuns refused to sell the painting even for three times what it had cost them. 


Eric M. White


Biography of St. Clare


Biography of Ugolino Verino


Variations between the printed Ashendene edition and the manuscript appear beside the transcription.


 Enlarged image of folio 1r.


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