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Vita Caroli Magni (Life of Charlemagne): MS 180

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Current Location: In storage


Vita Caroli Magni (Life of Charlemagne)


Author: Acciaiuoli, Donato
Scribe: Benedetto Strozzi, Messer Piero di
Artist: Chierico, Francesco di Antonio del and associate



MS 180, Vita Caroli Magni (Life of Charlemagne)

On 2 January 1462, ambassadors from Florence presented the recently crowned Louis XI of France (1461-1483) with this manuscript. The biography of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor (800-814) and a revered model-ruler, was a fitting and flattering gift for the new king of France. A superb example of Florentine scholarship and Renaissance book design, this volume was also a subtle tool of cultural diplomacy. It evoked the ideal of the Renaissance prince while demonstrating Florence’s intellectual and artistic superiority. The artist’s frontispiece purposefully mimicked the style of manuscripts produced during the reign of Charlemagne and combined this with the most fashionable and modern decoration.

The author, scribe, artist, and book agent worked closely together, as manuscripts were an important art form for demonstrating the superior, learned status of the Florentine ruling elite. The volume was produced quickly – between Louis XI’s coronation on 15 August 1461 and 27 October 1461 when the Florentine ambassadors set off for France.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Parchment, ii paper flyleaves (first pasted to silk) + ii contemporary parchment flyleaves + 32 fols. + ii paper flyleaves (second pasted to silk), 245 x 165 mm (155 x 80 mm), 26 long lines, ruled in hard point, catchwords.

BINDING: Early nineteenth century, Paris, dark blue morocco over pasteboards, gilt and lined with pink silk, by Bozérian Jeune (gold lettering on spine: BEL. P. BOZERIAN JEON).

fol. 1v Dedication to Louis XI of France
fols. 2r-4r Donato Acciaiuoli, Preface addressed to Louis XI of France
fols. 6r-26r Donato Acciaiuoli, Vita Caroli Magni (ed. Mencke 1728-1730, I, cols. 813-832; Gatti 1981).

ORNAMENTATION: Gold-framed medallion with dedication to Louis XI of France written in gold and blue epigraphic capitals, supported by a putto, flanked by two musical putti, and surmounted by the royal arms of France supported by two putti, with two more kneeling above the shield (fol. 1v).

Two gold initials [both C, 6-7 ll.] filled with and framed by white vine-scroll on blue, pink and green ground, and accompanied by full white vine-scroll borders on blue, pink and green ground, inhabited by putti, birds and deer, the first one incorporating medallions with a child’s head and an armoured warrior’s bust, the second a medallion with plants, both including the royal arms of France supported by putti in the lower borders (fols. 2r, 6r).


History note: Louis XI of France (1461-1483); Auguste Chardin (no. 450 in his catalogue of 1811); Richard, seventh Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion (1745–1816), acquired in 1814; his bequest, 1816.

Place(s) associated

  • Florence

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bequeathed (1816) by Fitzwilliam, Richard, 7th Viscount


15th Century, third quarter#
Production date: AD 1461

People, subjects and objects depicted


  • Cambridge Illuminated

Materials used in production


Components of the work

Support composed of parchment

Techniques used in production


Inscription or legends present

  • Text: sibi ad imitandum
  • Location: Fol. 3r
  • Type: Secundo folio

References and bibliographic entries

Related exhibitions

Identification numbers

Accession number: MS 180
Primary reference Number: 166633
Project ID: 405
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Thursday 23 November 2023 Last processed: Thursday 23 November 2023

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Manuscripts and Printed Books

Citation for print

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The Fitzwilliam Museum (2023) "Vita Caroli Magni (Life of Charlemagne)" Web page available at: Accessed: 2023-12-03 12:04:36

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