8. Choir Books

Witnessing a fervent religious and cultural activity, the Patriarchate of Aquileia keeps a great deal of choir books, some of which were drawn out by local masters in contact with the major production centres.

Choir books are one of the most fascinating librarian typologies of the Medieval and Renaissance ages. As the name itself evidences, they were used by the clergy and the choir chanters of the churches for the chanted accompaniment of the liturgy. These are codices of remarkable dimensions, above all Graduals and Antiphonals, that were placed on the lecterns, monumental music-stands, where thanks to their large dimensions they could be seen and read by the chanters sitting on their stalls. The large-format leaves of parchment alternate lines of texts and music lines and exhibit temper coloured decorated or inhabited initials, often on gilded folia. The choice to open the chants with inhabited miniatures helped to understand the meaning of the festivity the chant was referred to; besides it was a valid mnemonic means to remember the first words of the given chant and it gave the book a sumptuary worth consistent with its sacral destination. The manufacturing of such sumptuous codices could also take years, either it was performed within the same religious communities or commissioned outside to professional calligraphers and to specialized illumination workshops. It happened sometimes that valuable liturgical series originally drawn out for a community were sold or donated to other communities, even far-away, that then used them with the eventual integration of masses and divine offices referable to local saints and feasts. The mobility of the choir books made then possible the spreading of figurative languages typical of other places, and it nowadays explains the presence of miniated witnesses in environments that are far from the production places. The Patriarchate of Aquileia does not make exception for this praxis and, as a witness of a fervent religious and cultural activity, it keeps a great deal of choir books. The illustrative set of this heritage has been particularly investigated by the art historians, and made known thanks to two important exhibitions on the miniature in Friuli. This site introduces some volumes drawn out from the fourteenth through the beginning of the sixteenth century, since they are esteemed of a particular interest for such different reasons as their patrons, the miniatures belonging to different geographical areas, even very far from the places where the choir books were used, or also for peculiar illumination choices. Next to graduals and antiphonals manufactured by local masters, there are also included books produced outside Friuli and purchased by the churches of this region.

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