In 1441, Marco di Bartolomeo Rustici, a well-to-do Florentine goldsmith decided to set out on a long, spiritual journey with a very particular destination in mind: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
Unlike many people of his day, the devoted man chronicled and illustrated his entire journey from start to finish, giving modern-day readers a fascinating insight into 15th century life in Florence (and well beyond). The long trek starts in our fair city, up to Genova, onwards to the Mediterranean waters, then to Cyprus, off to Mount Sinai and finally at the destination and back. What makes this book truly so unique is the rarity of such a detailed account as well as the document's fantastic state of preservation, thanks in part to the Seminario Arcivescovile in Florence.
Imagine reading a first-person encounter of what Florence was like in the mid 15th century - a city buzzing with artistic expression and architectural innovation. All of which was of course driven by spirituality and devotion to God, as the grand part of the works being built at the time were religious driven (the Duomo, for example). Rustici also beautifully details daily life in the city, including detailed streetscapes, the medieval city walls, and other architectural wonders gone today (and some still easily recognizable).
Rustici then continues to write passionately and almost at the point of senselessness towards the end of the work, rewriting passages and interjecting non-relevant quotes in the middle of the text. Seemingly, driven by feverish spells. Even though the text isn't necessarily a masterpiece of Florentine literature and prose, we reach the end abruptly when Rustici dies in 1451.
Earlier this year we attended a book presentation at the stunning Florence Baptistry organized by the Florentine publishing house Leo S. Olschki, who edited and is issuing the meticulous reproduction of the once obscure and hidden manuscript. A copy can be purchased for €2,200 a piece directly from the famed publisher. A hefty price, but the limited-edition print is considered an extremely valuable investment for academics and book lovers worldwide. In fact, the Pope was given his own copy during his visit to Florence this year!