Matteo Luigi Canonici, Jesuit and bibliophile

The most important collection, which the memory of Canonici is nowadays exclusively bound to, consists of precious or rare handwritten codices and printed books that had once made up his personal library.

Matteo Luigi Canonici was born in Venice on 5 August 1727 to Andrea and Margherita Rossi. In his earliest youth he entered the Society of Jesus and was appointed director of the studies in the boarding school for the noblemen of Parma. The acquaintances he made in Parma with men of great erudition and culture deserved him to succeed to Bettinelli in the ‘Accademia degli Scelti’ (Academy of Elected) that had its headquarters in the same boarding school for noblemen, as well as to make friends with the duke. The name of Canonici is above all bound to the conspicuous collections, which he had drawn up in different times and with various documental destinations, that he kept on making and editing by himself. His chronologically first collections are on the statutes and histories of Italian cities, and on numismatics. Later Canonici had a modest office in St. Lucia’s college of Bologna, where he remained until the Society’s suppression (1773): here he gathered a chosen collection of paintings on a sacred subject. After becoming secular priest, in that same year 1773 Canonici moved to Venice, where he chose to have his stable residence until his death that occurred at the beginning of September 1805. Here he gathered his personal library rich in nearly two thousand printed books and more than four thousand manuscripts, mostly of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, among which there were illuminated codices of Greek, Latin and Italian classics, eastern works, biblical and liturgical texts and a series of chronicles, reports and miscellaneous documents regarding the history of Venice. His manuscripts, a catalogue of which was never compiled, almost fully were transferred, in two different times, to Great Britain; 1639 of them make up the so-called Canonicianus Fund of the Bodleian Library in Oxford; of the other codices, after an initial dispersion, 829 were handed over to the canon Walter Sneyd’s library, which was put up to auction in 1903. Some of them recently came back to Italy and Germany, but the majority of these manuscripts were transferred again to Great Britain and the United States; only twenty-seven are nowadays kept in Florentine public libraries.

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