Manuscripts in the Italian Statute Collection

Statuta terrae Bassani marchionatus (1615)
May 3, 2015

The Yale Law Library’s collection of early Italian statutes is the largest outside of Italy. One of its strengths is its manuscripts. A list of them, “Manuscripts in the Italian Statute Collection, Yale Law Library,” is now available in the Yale Law Special Collections section of the Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository.

The list is arranged alphabetically by jurisdiction (usually a city or town). It gives descriptions of 74 manuscripts. Most of them are municipal statutes that govern both civil and criminal matters. A few contain the statutes of guilds (pharmacists of Naples), or statutes covering specific subject areas such as criminal law (Bregaglia Valley), commercial law (Città di Castello, Florence, Montefortino), fishing (Perugia), tariffs (Bologna), or agriculture (Tivoli). They date mainly from the 15th to 18th centuries.

One example is shown at left: the 1615 compilation of the statutes of Bassano del Grappa, a city in northwest Italy that was part of the Republic of Venice for much of its history. Ernest Hemingway lived in Bassano while he was driving an ambulance in World War I.

The list also includes 24 print titles because they contain significant additions in manuscript. Printed editions of municipal statutes were expensive to publish and had a limited market, so only the most important and populous cities, such as Milan and Venice, published frequent updated editions. For printed statutes in other cities, it was easier and less expensive to update the copies in manuscript. Below is one example from Novara, Statuta civitatis Novariae (1719). From a book history perspective, these volumes are interesting because they straddle the boundary between manuscript and print.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian

 


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