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MSS. Canonici

Matteo Luigi Canonici was born at Venice on 5 August 1727, and became a Jesuit in 1743. His natural bent was towards history and antiquities, and when Accademico of the college of St. Catherine at Parma he formed a first collection of medals and books; but in 1768, when the Jesuit Order was suppressed in the kingdom of Naples and duchy of Parma, it was confiscated. Canonici, who had retired to Bologna, only received a small sum of money in return. Next he collected pictures, but this scandalized his superiors, and he was forced to get rid of them, obtaining in exchange a museum of medals. In 1773 a further suppression of the Order took place, and Canonici retired to Venice, where he set himself to study history, and collected coins, statuary, printed books and MSS., chiefly during autumn journeys to Rome, Naples, Florence or elsewhere. He acquired for instance en bloc the collections of the duke of Modena, and the library of Giacomo Soranzo of Venice, which was itself partly derived from the Biblioteca Recanati. He always hoped that the Jesuits would be restored, and intended in that case to make them his heir, but eventually died at Treviso (probably around September 1805) without making a will.

Canonici's collections passed to his brother Giuseppe, and on his death in 1807 to his nephews Giovanni Perissinotti and Girolamo Cardina, who divided them. To the former fell the MSS., then about 3550 in number, and, after many attempts to sell them, the Bodleian became the purchaser of the greater part in 1817, for £5444 5s. 1d., or including incidental expenses about £6030, the largest single purchase ever made by the Library. The formal list of volumes handed over was signed on 18 May 1817, and the books probably arrived later that year.

In 1821 a few additional Canonici MSS. were sold in London by public auction. In 1835 the Rev. Walter Sneyd, of Denton House, Cuddleston, purchased all that remained in Italy, 915 in number, including a valuable geographical work by Marino Sanuto (now British Library, Add. MS. 27376).

Most of the Canonici manuscripts are described in various volumes of the 'Quarto' series of catalogues, except for the liturgical ones, which are described in the Summary Catalogue. The divisions of the collection, which must not be regarded as very accurately carried out, and the catalogues in which descriptions may be found, are as follows:

All are listed very briefly in the Summary Catalogue, vol. IV, pp. 313-421, with references to the 'Quarto' catalogues. The Summary Catalogue also includes a few corrigenda, and descriptions of a few manuscripts omitted from the 'Quarto' catalogues.

J. B. Mitchell, 'Trevisan and Soranzo: some Canonici manuscripts from two eighteenth-century Venetian collections', Bodleian Library Record 8 no. 3 (1969), 125-35.
Irma Merolle, L'abate Matteo Luigi Canonici e la sua biblioteca: i manoscritti Canonici e Canonici-Soranzo delle biblioteche fiorentine (Rome, Florence, 1958) [pp. 5-58 are a reprint of Irma Merolle, 'L'abate Matteo Luigi Canonici: le sue raccolte d'arte e la sua biblioteca', Archivum historicum societatis Iesu 27 (1958), 5-58].

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Last modified: 21 April 2008