Nun, Mystic, Painter

Catherine of Bologna [Caterina de Vigri], Saint (1413-1463)

Il libro della beata Caterina bolognese, dell’ordine del seraphico santo Francesco, quale essa lascio scritto di sua mano.

[Bologna, Pellegrino Bonardo], ca. 1550


Octavo: 96 p.

Modern boards covered with old manuscript antiphonal. Large woodcut Crucifixion to title; small corner repairs to the last three leaves, far from text, a small old dampstain, some light spotting and soiling; bound in; lightly rubbed.

Rare edition of "Le Sette armi Spirituali" (The Seven Spiritual Weapons), the chief work of the Italian mystic and artist Saint Catherine of Bologna, the patron saint of painters. 

Catarina de Vigri (1413-1463), founder and abbess of a convent of Poor Clares in Bologna, wrote works of mysticism, visions and devotion, and was a highly accomplished illuminator and painter. "The outstanding figure [among cloistered female vernacular writers of the early 15thc.] is Caterina Vigri. Prior to taking vows as an observant Clarissa, Caterina had received a courtly education at Ferrara in the 1420s, were she was invited by a companion to Margherita d'Este; even if her studies there preceded the founding of Guarino Guarini's famous school, we may assume that they were humanistic in character."(Cox, Women's writing in Italy, p. 16)

Among her extant artistic works is a painting of St. Ursula that hangs today in the Accademia in Venice, and her illuminated breviary (now at Oxford). St. Catherine is one of the so-called "Incorruptibles". Her mummified body, still wearing her nun's habit, clutching a crucifix and a Bible, and seated on a golden throne, is in the Chiesa della Santa, Bologna.

Her principal work, on the spiritual weapons against sin, initially circulated in manuscripts in Italian convents and was first published in 1475, but achieved its greatest popularity in the sixteenth century when biographies of the saint began to circulate. Shortly after 1550 Bonardo of Bologna produced two editions, both rare, carrying exactly the same text line-by-line, but with a different type composition (for the dating, see A. Serra-Zanetti, L ’ arte della stampa in Bologna nel primo ventennio del Cinquecento, p. 220). This is the rarer of the two editions and very probably the earlier, bearing the variant ‘IL EINE’ (a typo for ‘IL FINE’) instead of ‘FINIS’ at the end.

CNCE 75037 or 10260