The Illuminated Parchments

of Milan's Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico

La Sala del Capitolo d’estate, affrescata dal Volpino nel 1638 (1910/1920)Ca’ Granda – Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico

The archive of the Ospedale Maggiore

Ever since the 11th century, the historical archive has preserved the documents of the hospital's administration, including parchments that were sometimes illuminated and came with seals, registers, maps and papers of significant historical importance. The signatures of several great historical and cultural figures are among the most significant relics: Giacomo Leopardi, Giovanni Segantini, Napoleon Bonaparte and Pope Pius II Piccolomini to name just a few.

Documento miniato - Donazione 'pro remedio animae' (1456-04-01)Ca’ Granda – Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico

This illuminated parchment holds an extremely important place in history. In this document, written on 1st April 1456, Francesco I Sforza, Duke of Milan, orders the establishment of the Ospedale Maggiore.

Detail of the illuminated parchment in which Francesco I Sforza orders the establishment of the Ospedale Maggiore.
The initial "F" of Franciscus depicts a dragon with a human face. The animal is holding a quince, known as a "mela cotogna" in Italian. This is a reference to the town of Cotignola, birthplace of the Sforza family.

In the upper margin decorations: the Visconti's ducal coat of arms (the biscione , or snake, quartered with the imperial eagle) flanked by the letters "F S" and by other coats of arms and "devices", including the broom with the motto "merito et tempore", the three interlinked diamond rings, the horse's bit, the uprooted pine, and the blue and white waves.

Documento miniato - Concessione di diritto di questua (1463-04-05)Ca’ Granda – Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico

Diploma handwritten by Francesco I Sforza in favour of the hospital on the Great Saint Bernard Pass, allowing the collection of alms in the duchy.

Documento miniato - Nomina a monetari della Zecca (1423-08-13)Ca’ Granda – Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico


In the course of its activities, the hospital has produced, received and preserved significant documents attesting rights and privileges. In other cases, the documents come from the archives of various institutions incorporated into the hospital or from bequests left by benefactors; these documents cover a diverse range of topics from heraldry to literature. They include around 16,000 parchments, including 43 decorated with rich miniatures.

Documento miniato - Nomina a conte (1810-10-11)Ca’ Granda – Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico

One of the most valuable illuminated documents is this diploma issued by Napoleon I (11-10-1810) in which he grants the title of Count of the Kingdom of Italy to Mr Stanislao Antonio Cossoni.

Napoleon I's handwritten signature.

Documento miniato - Supplica al Papa (Fine XV secolo)Ca’ Granda – Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico

Supplication to the Pope from the brothers of the Concezione in S. Francesco (Conception in St Francis) in Milan, asking for confirmation of spiritual privileges (15th century).

The miniature is attributed to the De Predis school. The Confraternity of the Conception also commissioned the "Virgin of the Rocks" by Leonardo da Vinci

Documento miniato - Concessione di benefici spirituali (1485-11-30)Ca’ Granda – Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico

Documento miniato - Nomina a Governatore di Genova (1435-12-16)Ca’ Granda – Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico

Miniatures in documents

While miniatures were widespread in medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, their use in documents was comparatively rare. Decorations were usually commissioned by recipients of special privileges, or else in very solemn deeds so as to emphasise the value of the document. The hospital's collection is an unusual and particularly valuable example in terms of the quantity and artistic quality of the relics dating from the 14th to the 19th century.

Documento miniato - Esenzione fiscale (1452-12-16)Ca’ Granda – Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico

Diploma signed by Bianca Maria Visconti, Duchess of Milan, exempting the Hospital of S. Martino in Nosiggia in Milan from tax. Dated 16th December, 1452.

Documento miniato - Concessione di beni (1448-08-31)Ca’ Granda – Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico

Diploma signed by the Captains and Defenders of the Ambrosian Republic in favour of the Milanese hospital administration, to whom they donated a palace with a forest in Cusago for the purposes of establishing a leper hospital (13th August, 1448).

Documento miniato - Concessione di esenzione fiscale (1495-02-11)Ca’ Granda – Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico

In this illuminated document from 1495, Ludovico Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, grants his relative, Ambrogio Crivelli, a tax exemption.
Sforza was nicknamed "Il Moro" (The Moor), as evoked by the face in the initial.

Documento miniato - Concessione di cittadinanza (1586-12-29)Ca’ Granda – Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico

The decoration represents the cardinal and theological virtues.

Documento miniato - Decreto contro i debitori (1458-04-22)Ca’ Granda – Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico

Decree of 22nd April, 1458, by Francesco I Sforza, Duke of Milan, against the insolvent debtors owing money to Milan's hospitals.

Credits: Story

These documents were scanned by Prof. Duilio Bertani as part of a collaboration with the University of Milan.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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