Late Medieval Self-Portraiture and Patronage in Pietro da Pavia’s Ambrosiana Pliny

  • Azar Rejaie (University of Houston-Downtown)


In the late Trecento Fra Pietro da Pavia, a miniaturist in the court-city of the dukes of Milan, illuminated a copy of Pliny's Natural History for Pasquino Capelli, a famous bibliophile and one of the most powerful chancellors to Duke Giangaleazzo Visconti. In the illuminated letter M that begins book XXXV, which contains Pliny's discussion on ancient artists, Fra Pietro signs and dates the manuscript Frater Pietro da Papia me fecit, 1389. Within the framing curves of the letter the illuminator further commemorates his involvement in the manuscript's creation by means of a small but exquisitely detailed self-portrait in which Pietro shows himself industriously at work.

Although created in an era in which art patrons possessed and sometimes exercised the right of refusal should a commissioned work of art not meet their standards, this self-portrait has hitherto not been interrogated for either the purpose behind its presence or how its original audience might have understood it. This essay attempts to shed light on both issues by examining the historical context surrounding the creation and format of Pietro's self-image, and by considering Pietro's signature inscription in relation to Pliny's discourse on the meaning behind the use of the word "fecit" in an artist's signature. It further considers the influence exerted by Francesco Petrarca [Petrarch] on the Milanese court in order to suggest that the presentation of Fra Pietro's self-image drew upon Petrarch's model of authorial identity in a way that the illuminator's important patron would have appreciated and perhaps encouraged.

Keywords: Pliny, Petrarch, Authorial Identity, Signature, Self-Image, Patronage, Azar, Rejaie

How to Cite:

Rejaie, A., (2011) “Late Medieval Self-Portraiture and Patronage in Pietro da Pavia’s Ambrosiana Pliny”, Authorship 1(1). doi:

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Published on
29 Nov 2011
Peer Reviewed