The monastic choir books of San Sisto in Piacenza and the production of liturgical manuscripts in fifteenth-century Italy

Joanne Filippone Overty, Fordham University


In the second half of the fifteenth century, a set of lavishly illuminated choir books were commissioned for the Benedictine Monastery of San Sisto in Piacenza. Consisting of fourteen volumes, and containing the graduals and antiphoners necessary for the celebration of the mass and the divine office, the set was used continuously by the monastery over the next three hundred years. Because the location of the set was lost from the dissolution of the monasteries in the Napoleonic era until only a few years ago, the San Sisto choir books are one of the few unstudied sets produced during this period, which can be likened to a "golden age" in liturgical manuscript production in Italy. The first part of this dissertation examines the production and commission of the San Sisto choir books, which occurred in three distinct stages between 1470 and 1480. Particular attention is paid to San Sisto's incorporation into the larger Congregation of Santa Giustina (later known as the Cassinese Congregation), which had a profound impact on its fortunes, as all property of the congregation was held in common and administered through a chapter general, to be doled out to individual houses as was needed. In the late-fifteenth century, the Congregation of Santa Giustina was especially generous in funding artistic projects; new choir books for San Giovanni Evangelista in Parma and San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice were commissioned at roughly the same time as the San Sisto set, perhaps suggesting a wider liturgical program. This dissertation argues that the stages in production of the San Sisto choir books are closely aligned with the fortunes of monks of San Sisto in the overall power structure of the Congregation of Santa Giustina, which would enable them to direct funds to projects of their choosing. The second part of the dissertation catalogues the manuscripts in the set, and offers a brief overview of the monastery's liturgical practice.

Subject Area

Art history|Medieval history

Recommended Citation

Overty, Joanne Filippone, "The monastic choir books of San Sisto in Piacenza and the production of liturgical manuscripts in fifteenth-century Italy" (2014). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3630173.