Decameron Vaticano. Boccaccio

Decameron Vaticano. Boccaccio – Egeria, S.L. – Pal. Lat. 1989 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)

Paris (France) — 1414

Made for the Dukes of Burgundy and stored in the Vatican today: a masterfully illuminated manuscript of Boccaccio's magnum opus and a lasting testimony to Parisian illumination

  1. This manuscript artfully presents the first French translation of the Decameron by Boccaccio (1313–75)

  2. For the first time, each of the 100 tales is illustrated with a miniature by the Master of the Cité des Dames

  3. The manuscript has been owned by great art patrons like the dukes of Burgundy and the papacy

Decameron Vaticano. Boccaccio

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (2)
Decameron Vaticano. Boccaccio

A true gem in the literary and artistic history of France: the magnificent and gorgeous illuminated manuscript with the famous Decameron by Boccaccio in the first French translation. Kept today in the Vatican Library, the manuscript was originally the possession of the powerful and art-loving dukes of Burgundy. The manuscript’s miniature cycle is comprised of 100 illustrations from the heyday of French illumination and illustrates the important work in a unique and outstanding manner!

Decameron Vaticano. Boccaccio

At the time of the plague epidemic of 1348 in Florence, seven women and three men betake themselves to a protective country house outside the gates of the Italian city. There, they pass the time by telling entertaining and cryptic stories: each of the ten present tells a tale each night concerning a given subject. Thus arose a work of 100 novellas, a “ten-day-work”, the famous Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375), originating from the mid–14th century.

World Literature in the First French Translation

The Decameron is counted among the milestones of world literature, and it immediately enchanted its readers after its publication. The precious manuscript in the Vatican Library contains the text of the Decameron in the oldest French translation of the work. Laurent de Premierfait, an important 15th century humanist literati, translated Boccaccio’s masterpiece between 1411 and 1414 into French from a Latin version. Shortly after its completion, an initial manuscript, now known as Codex Pal. Lat 1989, emerged with the text and is simultaneously a milestone in the history of French illumination. Not only the text, but also the artistic adornment with 100 miniatures make the manuscript something special. Here for the first time, each of the 100 tales is illustrated with its own depiction.

The Creator of the Masterful Miniatures

The so-called Master of the Cité des Dames. This great French miniaturist had a Parisian workshop at the beginning of the 15th century and illustrated inter alia multiple manuscripts of the Cité des Dames by Christine Pizan – hence his name. The Master of the Cité des Dames worked inter alia with Jacquemart de Hesdin and predominantly illustrated literary and historical works. His gorgeous and haunting depictions of everyday life during his time made him one of the most outstanding representatives of his art.

A Colorful Round Dance of Pictures

The beholder finds an unbelievable narrative variety in the 100 half-page miniatures of the French Decameron manuscript. Noble ladies and a sultan’s daughter, famous scholars and pious churchmen, kings and robbers – they all people the illustrations and the stories of tragic accidents, heated discussions, and joyful weddings. The scenes – whether in interior spaces, on the water, in the forest, or in a city – are gorgeously colorful and spatially designed with detailed Gothic architectural elements and numerous details in gold. Even the decorative graceful fleuronnée ornamentation glimmers gold as lavish marginal decoration.

A Precious Gift?

This opulently designed manuscript originated ca. 1415 in Paris and can be accounted for in the collections of the Burgundian Dukes John the Fearless and Philip the Good in the years 1420 and 1467. It was probably a precious gift from Jean de Berry, the famous collector of manuscripts, to his uncle John the Fearless. After a stopover in the famous Heidelberger Bibliothek at the beginning of the 17th century, the manuscript came to the Vatican Library. There it is one of the rich collections’ greatest treasures and an impressive testimonial to the great art of illumination in Paris ca. 1415!


Alternative Titles
El Decameron
Boccaccio Decameron - Vatikan
Decameron Vaticano
Boccaccios vatikanischer Dekameron
Size / Format
656 pages / 30.0 × 22.5 cm
Framed miniatures inserted into the two-columned text; floral borders
100 Stories
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Duke of Burgundy
Palatine Library in Heidelberg

Available facsimile editions:
Decameron Vaticano. Boccaccio – Egeria, S.L. – Pal. Lat. 1989 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)
Egeria, S.L. – Madrid, 2006
Limited Edition: 2990 copies

Decameron Vaticano. Boccaccio – Belser Verlag – Pal. Lat. 1989 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)
Belser Verlag – Stuttgart, 2018
Limited Edition: 999 copies
Detail Picture

Decameron Vaticano. Boccaccio

Second Day, Tenth Tale

The buccaneer Paganino da Monaco carries off the wife of Ricciardo di Chinzica, a doctor of law from Pisa. After having learned where she is, Ricciardo goes to Paganino and politely asks him to restore her. He consents, but she refuses to go back with her husband. After Ricciardo dies, she marries Paganino. The moral of the story – that a young woman should not marry an old man – is common in late medieval vernacular literature and also reflects a trend towards women marrying later in life.

Decameron Vaticano
Single Page

Decameron Vaticano. Boccaccio

Fifth Day, Ninth Tale

The character of Fiammetta, supposedly based on the Neapolitan noblewoman Maria d’Aquino, relates the story of Federigo degli Alberighi. After spending all of his money in courtship, this unrequited romantic is left with only his falcon, which he offers to his lover for a meal. Touched by this act, sacrificing the only thing left to him, she marries him and makes him rich.

Aside from their moralizing purpose, these tales represent wonderful glimpses of court life in late medieval Europe, especially when presented within the context of such excellent Gothic miniatures. Here we see the fashions of contemporary Burgundy, especially Federigo, who wears red tights and a green tunic, a shirt with wide, puffy sleeves, and a splendid hat.

Decameron Vaticano
Facsimile Editions

#1 Decameron Vaticano

Egeria, S.L. – Madrid, 2006

Publisher: Egeria, S.L. – Madrid, 2006
Limited Edition: 2990 copies
Binding: Bound in gold tooled leather on wood
Commentary: 1 volume by Michelangelo Picone, Eberhard König, Claudia Montuschi, and Valentina Fernández Vargas
Language: Spanish
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€€ (3,000€ - 7,000€)
Edition available
Price: Log in here!

#2 Decameron Vaticano (Single leaf collection)

Belser Verlag – Stuttgart, 2018

Publisher: Belser Verlag – Stuttgart, 2018
Limited Edition: 999 copies
Binding: Blue cassette with leather covering
Commentary: 1 volume
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of 20 single leaves
Price Category: €€ (1,000€ - 3,000€)
Edition available
Price: Log in here!
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