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The Production of Bells in the Viterbese in the Late Middle Ages

The etymology of "bell" is, in the Italian language, traditionally connected to the Campania region (southern Italy), well-known, in Roman Age, for the bronze. The introduction of the bell in the Western religious tradition has attested at the half of the IX century.
Among VII and VIII century, the bronze, alloy in which the copper was present for 5 / 4 and the tin for 1/ 4 (as the monk Teofilo in the "De Diversis Artibus" suggests), became usual instead of the iron. In Italy, in the XIV century, it is also attested the addition of the antimony, to make stronger the sound of the bell.
From the XI century, the inscriptions became common: the most ancient ones are hand-made, but, already in the XIII century, they start to be imprinted by dies with mobile characters. Usually, in the inscriptions there are the names of the smelters, of the donors and of the saints, the date of realization and phrases from the Holy Writings.
The sound of the bells had different use like announcing the divine services, giving the alarm in case of need or removing phenomena of nature dangerous for the crop.

In my degree thesis 1, I have tried to reconstruct some aspects of the economic landscape of Lazio (centre of Italy) in the Late Middle Ages, using data about different productive activities. The choice of the productions examinated has been dictated by their different economic role and by the different geographical origin of the hands. In the Middle Ages up to the XVIII century, the workers were necessarily itinerant because the bells had not a vast market in the same place.
To sum up, it seems that the realization of bells in the Viterbese has been managed prevalently from foreign workers and that the presence of some particularly specialized hands is due to the egemonic role of the near Rome. In fact, for all the XIII century to the half of the following one, the well-known Bartolomeo "Pisanus" and his sons (Lotteringio, Andreotto, Guidotto and the son of this last, Andrea) worked in the north of Lazio 2. They worked above all in the central Italy and for their renown, they were called in Rome to found some bells, in the second part of the XIII century.
In the northern Lazio, Guidotto made two bells for two churches of Tarquinia: S. Michele "de puteis" or "della Pinca" (1281) and S. Egidio (1291) and Lotteringio found another one for S. Maria in Valverde (Tarquinia) 3. The sons of Bartolomeo were not the only hands of Pisa to work in that zone, because, always in the same period, it is attested the presence of a "Pisan" Bencivenne that founded a bell for the church of S. Sisto in Viterbo.
Only in the XIV century, we have bells surely made in the northern Lazio (picture 1): in the 1301, an "Matteus de Viterbio" founded a bell at Montefiascone 4 and on another bell of the 1452 (church "della VeritÓ" of Viterbo), there is the inscription: "hoc opus Sanctes fecit de Viterbio" 5. So, it should seems, that the production of bells in the northern Lazio had an acceleration among the end of the XIII and the XIV century with the activity of foreign workers, like Pisan ones, among the best in that time.
The hypotheses above seem to be confirmed by the knowledge that only in the XVIII century, with the Belli family, the zone of Viterbo had a consolidated tradition in the production of the bells. The Belli, native of Bagnoregio, worked in Viterbo up to the last century, handing down the secrets of the work from father to son 5.
More difficult it results to know the origin and the date of the bell that was found at Canino (near the lake of Bolsena) at the end of the XIX century. In the lower part of the bell there is an inscription that De Rossi have integrated: (in honorem) Dni. N (ri. Iesu) Christ et Sci. (Mihael)is. Arhangeli (offert?) Viventiu (s...) 7(picture 2). The same author, for the paleographic characters of the inscription and for the decorative elements, dates the bell at the VIII/ IX century or even at the VII century. On the contrary, I think that there are some other elements to doubt strongly about this so ancient date. I think also that it is possible to hypothesize an attribution to the XII century and maybe to an Tuscan ambit of workers, that we have seen attested for the following centuries 8.

The difficulty to carry these handwork for long distance, made necessary to found the bells "in situ". In fact, many pits of fusion were discovered inside the churches to which the bells were destinated (in Italy and in foreign countries) 9.

Bell found at Canino
The dimensions are: 0, 39 m of length and 0, 37 m of height, without the system of suspension, three big rings, strongly damaged. The diameter is approximately 50 cm. The bell has an inscription, on the exterior lower part. On the upper one, has two crosses (one for side) with two triangular holes on them, to make better the sound of the object. The letters of the inscription have a height of 7/ 8 mm 10.

XII century
The elements that you have to date the bell are:
1) The presence of the Vivenzio 's name. I think that the mention of a Vivenzio as donator have not to be considered as a proof of an early-medieval dating of the bell, because the cult of S. Vivenzio, bishop of Blera at the half of the V century, was important in the northern Lazio for long time.
2) Two crosses with volutes are present on the bell. It was recently demonstrated that this type of cross, formerly considered "Longobard," was used again also in full XI century in some churches of Abruzzo, like S. Benedetto "in Perillis" 11. So, this type of cross could not be a certain element of dating.
3) Paleographic characters. The strong similarity between the epigraph of the bell and two epigraphs of Lucca dated at the first half of the XII century 12, has suggested me to deepen the research in Tuscan ambit, above all for the alternation of uncial (e, h) and of capitals characters (u/ v). The same alternation is on epigraphs of Pisan area, above all that one situated between the main door and that one on the left of the Cathedral of Pisa, about the foundation of the same church among the 1063 and the 1064 13.
The elements that in the recent past were looked upon important to date the bell could be considered in the opposite way. In fact, they could corroborate the pregnant thesis about the presence of Pisan workers in the Viterbese a century before as it is attested with Bartolomeo and his sons. For the future, it should be important to deepen the reserch with other comparisons and with an examination "de visu" of the bell, to looking for traces of work.

1 Thesis was disputed on December 1994, at the University "La Sapienza" of Rome.
2 G. Lera, "Le antiche campane di Lucca e del suo circondario e i maestri fonditori dei secolo XIII e XVI", in Actum Luce, I (1972), pp. 42-47.
3 L. Cimarra, "Quidam Guidoctus Pisanus me fecit... (in margine al libro "Corneto com' era")", in Bollettino della SocietÓ tarquiniense di Arte e Storia, 16 (1986), pp. 189-191.
4 L. Cimarra, "Materiali per una ricerca epigrafica: le campane di Canepina", in Studi e Documenti I, Canepina 1990, p. 65. 5 A. Scriattoli, Viterbo nei suoi monumenti, Roma 1915-1920, pp. 93, 94.
6 N. Angeli, "I Belli, una dinastia di "campanari" viterbesi", in Biblioteca e SocietÓ 3-4 (1982), p. 37.
7 G. B. De Rossi, "Campana con epigrafe dedicatoria del secolo in circa ottavo o nono trovata presso Canino", in Bollettino di Archeologia Cristiana (1887), pp. 82-87.

Francesca Zagari

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