Tabula of Cebes and De Mortis Effectibus

London, British Library, MS Arundel 317


+39 333 9860 410

Illuminated Facsimiles

Tabula of Cebes and De Mortis Effectibus

London, British Library, MS Arundel 317

Alternative titles
Tabula Cebetis – Kébetos Pínax – Tavole della Saggezza e della Virtù – Bildtafel des Kebes.
Physical features
Codex on parchment, dimensions 205 x 140 mm, 30 folios.
Recent cover (1967) made by the British Library.
France (Paris) and England (Cambridge), early 16th century (1506-1507).
The humanist and Mantuan friar Filippo Alberici (b. ca. 1470, d. 1531) completed the first part of the manuscript in 1506, while he was in Paris, in order to give it to the King of England, Henry VII (b. 1457, d. 1509), whom he hoped to meet on his forthcoming trip to Cambridge. Alberici aspired to gain employment at court and the precious gift had the delicate aim of winning him favour with the sovereign. In this regard, see the dedication on f. 1r – «AD EXCELSUM POTENTISS[IMUM]QUE HENRICUM SEPTIMUM ANGLIAE REGEM» (Dedicated to the excellent and very powerful Henry VII, King of England). In 1507, he made his journey but the manuscript never reached the hands of the English monarch – whom the unfortunate Alberici may not have even met. Having failed in his original project, he therefore decided to present it to a minor patron and thus donated it to Joachim Bretoner, syniscopal of King’s Hall. For the occasion, he added a second work to the original content of the codex and inserted a new dedication (f. 24v). Bretoner later left Cabridge to travel to Italy, and did not take the manuscript with him – which therefore remained in England. On f. 29v we can find an important annotation for reconstructing the later history of the codex – «This book was geven me George L. Carew of Clopton by the Ladie Elizabeth, daughter unto the most highe and puissant monarch James, of England Scotland France and Ireland, etc. Kinge: and with her owne fayre hand she superscribed her name: Mens. octob. 1608». George Carew, 1st Earl of Totnes (b. 1555, d. 1629), claims that he received the manuscript from the young Elizabeth Stuart (b. 1596, d. 1662), daughter of the King of England James I (b. 1566, d. 1625) and Anne of Denmark (b. 1574, d. 1619), and that Elizabeth signed the note. The codex subsequently passed to Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel (b. 1585, d. 1646), although the circumstances of its acquisition are unknown. His rich collection of manuscripts, printed books and artworks was later dispersed, and the library was donated to the Royal Society of London and to the College of Arms. The stamp on f. 1v «Soc. Reg. Lond / ex dono Henr. Howard / Norfolciensis» refers to the donation that Henry Howard made to the Royal Society in 1667. In 1831, the British Museum acquired from the Royal Society the manuscripts of the former Arundel fund, which corresponds to the current Arundel Collection of the British Library.
Present repository
London, British Library (MS Arundel 317).
The manuscript opens with a dedication and panegyric to King Henry VII of England, whom Filippo Alberici had identified as the first recipient of the precious gift. This is followed by the Tabula Cebetis (ff. 2v-23v), a Latin version of the Greek text Kébetos Pínax (Κέβητος Θηβαίου Πίναξ), datable to between the 1st and 2nd century AD, and attributed today to Pseudo-Cebetis. Already in the 2nd century AD Diogenes Laërtius (d. 180, m. 240) attributed the Kébetos Pínax to the Greek philosopher Cebes of Thebes (d. ?, m. 5th-4th century BC) – a disciple of Philolaus (d. 470 BC, m. 390 BC) and later of Socrates (d. ca. 470 BC, m. 399 BC) – but this attribution is certainly incorrect. Alberici himself composed the Tabula Cebetis, modelled on the original composition, and his Latin version cannot be considered a mere translation of the Greek original. The work is constructed as a frame story. The protagonist Cebes and some companions are near a temple of Saturn (Kronos, in the original version of Pseudo-Cebetis) and contemplate a strange painting that they do not know how to interpret, until a bearded old man approaches the group and proposes to describe and explain the meaning of the painting. This is where the second level of the narrative begins. The painting is basically a depiction of human life and the difficult path towards the attainment of virtue: within the three walls of a city, built like rings through which one accesses the inner ones, the pitfalls that one may encounter along this path are depicted, and what are the implications and consequences of the life choices people make. Both the more sensual obstacles are depicted – such as Inanis gloria (the Vainglory), Voluptas in malis (the Desire for evil), or Luxuria (the Lust) – but also other dangers or variables to be considered and watched out for – such as Falsa disciplina (the False instruction) or Fortuna (the Fortune). Along with the pitfalls and disastrous consequences faced by those who fall into error, the picture also depicts the results to which good conduct leads. Until the final representation – within the last wall – of the Virtutis sedes (the Seat of virtue). After the text of the Tabula Cebetis Alberici inserted a second panegyric (f. 24r/v), this time dedicated not only to Henry VII but also to his son Henry (b. 1491, d. 1547), heir to the throne and future Henry VIII. The final part of the manuscript contains another work by Alberici, the De mortis effectibus (ff. 25r-28v), a poem on the end of human life that the Mantuan friar inserted when he decided to donate the codex to Joachim Bretoner. Here too, Alberici inserted a dedication for the new addressee (f. 24v), which precedes the De mortis effectibus. Finally, it is worth mentioning the presence of various argumenta, inserted by Alberici before the various sections of the Tabula Cebetis.
Humanistic cursive, capitalis.
Filippo Alberici wrote all the textual parts of the manuscript – the Tabula Cebetis, the De mortis effectibus, dedications, panegyrics and argumenta.
The manuscript features no less than 7 full-page miniatures, 2 pages with full borders and illuminated initials, 7 decorated initials and many minor initials in red and blue.
The decorative apparatus was mostly created by Jean (or Jos) Coene IV, previously identified as the Maître des Entrées Parisiennes. Coene was active in Paris between 1500 and 1520 and Alberici entrusted him with the decoration of the codex when he was in the French capital before his trip to Cambridge. Later Alberici decided to add the text of the De mortis effectibus to the manuscript, and as he was now in Cambridge, he entrusted a less talented local artist with the creation of a final miniature.

Data sheet: Illuminated Facsimiles®



Le Tavole della Saggezza e della Virtù (Tabula Cebetis)

Publisher(s) – Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana – Treccani (Rome, 2022), by concession of the British Library. (This is a co-edition with Verlag Müller und Schindler.)
Series – Tesori Svelati.
Limited edition – This facsimile edition was produced in 999 copies marked with hand numbering from 1 to 999. Six non-sale copies in Roman numeration have been reserved for the Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana.
Type of reproduction – Full-size colour reproduction of the entire original document. The facsimile reproduces the physical characteristics of the original manuscript as closely as possible, with the aim of substituting it in scientific research and in the libraries of bibliophile collectors.
Materials and printing- The facsimile is printed in four-colour process, gold and silver paste and hot gold, on Stucco parchment-like paper from Cartiere Fedrigoni.
Binding – Brown leather cover with gold lettering and decorations. Crowned coat of arms of the Howard family impressed on both covers. The binding might not correspond to that of the original document as it appears at the present moment.
Commentary – Commentary volume in Italian, size 16 x 24 cm, 75 pages, 8 colour plates. Essays and comments by Dieter Röschel translated from German by Translated.
Slipcase – The facsimile and commentary volume are housed in a brown canvas slipcase, size 30 x 22 x 5 cm, with gold impressions.
Certificate of authenticity – The certificate is inserted into the facsimile.
ISBN – 978-88-12-01044-8 (facsimile and commentary volume).

Copyright photos: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana – Treccani

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