he De Sphaera is unanimously considered the most beautiful codex of the Renaissance. This illuminated manuscript, of Lombard origin and dated between the sixth and seventh decades of the 15th century, is attributed to Cristoforo De Predis. It is presumed to have found its way to the Estense court as part of the dowry of Anna, the daughter of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. In 1491, Anna was married to Alfonso D'Este, crown prince of the Ferrara dukedom, son of Ercole I and grandson of Leonello and Borso. This precious work of art is the fruition of that culture and passion for collecting that pervaded the courts of the Italian Renaissance. In this sense, such courts represented actual ":artists' ateliers": wherein there competed, in bravura and style Pisanello, Mantegna, Cosmé Tura, Ercole de Roberti, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and illuminators such as Vespasiano da Bisticci, Belbello da Pavia and Christoforo De Predis.
The miniature codex is the reflection of soul of both author and patron. Embellished by the painters mastery and artistic ingenuity, the Renaissance book gives expression to that living sense of the beautiful which the courts - and in particular that of the Estense - demonstrated on every occasion in life, every encounter a testimony of ostentatious sumptuousness, yet of loving embrace for creative genius.
The De Sphaera is essentially a treatise on astrology, a practice of the human intellect still remote from becoming a science but with the ambition to test the esoteric world of symbols and concepts of ideas and religion. The presence of the world of planets and signs of the zodiac is widely diffuse in 15th century literature and iconography, reminiscent not only of the late middle ages but with elements common to both classical and oriental civilisations.
In the age of the Renaissance, the planets and signs of the zodiac underwent a complex iconographical ordination, extending from the purely astrological to the religious, from sacred symbolism to the simplest profound beliefs. There emerged a sort of alchemy of the most sophisticated doctrine combined with popular lay interpretation. The divinities are portrayed according to the canons customary in current prevailing iconography. At their feet are the encircled signs of the zodiac that exert an influence - either positive or negative - on human activity, as represented in the lower parts of the picture and further emphasised in the tables opposite. The first and last parts of the manuscript, with astronomical, mathematical and meteorological tables, serve as introductory and preparatory material for the interpretation of celestial phenomena. The Sphaerae Coelestis et Planetarum Descripto, commonly known as the De Sphaera, is on permanent display in the exhibition room ":Giuseppe Campori": in the Estense Library in Modena, Italy, catalogued as alfa.x.2.14=Lat.209. It is an illuminated manuscript on parchment from the 15th century (c. 1460-70), measuring 170mm x 245mm, consisting of a single fascicle of 8 leaves and 16 numbered pages, giving life to a 32 page volume in which 7 are blank and octagonally ruled in red ink, 15 entirely illuminated, 9 with astronomical drawings and a ":tabula climatum":. The script is in semigothic bookform Italian, in red, azure and seppia.
The facsimile is in the original form with 999 copies being reproduced of which 1 to 980 are numbered and stamped by the Estense Library. The first 19 copies, numbered I to XIX are not for sale being reserved for the editor and the Estense Library. The facsimile is lavishly bound with a case and is joined by a commentary ":The Iconography in Astrology Between Middle Ages and Renaissance":, with texts by E. Milano, R. Iotti, L. Ventura and G. Malacarne, available in Spanish, German and Italian.
A documentation kit containing 1 sample page, in the original size, from the De Sphaera Fine Art Facsimile Volume, plus an illustrated, 12 page information brochure, is available for $US48.
Please note: This facsimile volume is now sold out.