Missal of Roselli. Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria Torino. Source: Wikipedia

Cardinal Roselli and his Missal – A Wonder in Gold and Vibrant Colours

The Missal of Roselli – Messale Roselli – was produced for Cardinal Nicolas Rosell in Avignon c. 1350. Now in Torino, it represents one of the beautiful illuminated missals from the 14th century.

Detail from the Missal of Roselli. Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria Torino. Source: Wikipedia
Detail from the Missal of Roselli. Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria Torino. Source: Wikipedia

Nicolas Rossell was born in 1314 in Mallorca. In 1326, he entered the Dominican Friary on the island. Shortly after, he transferred to Barcelona, where his preaching reached the royal ears. In 1340 the King of Aragon appointed him as a royal chaplain. Later, he graduated as Master of Theology (1349). While in royal employ, he took part (1347) in the organisation of the new Monastery of Montsió. The first location was next to the royal shipyard and outside the walls of Barcelona. Today, it can be found – under the name of Santa Maria de Montsió – in the Carrer de Montsió. In 1350 Rossell was appointed provincial of the Dominicans in the kingdom of Aragon and general inquisitor. In this role, he persecuted Beguins and lay Franciscans as well as Franciscan spirituals. All these religious people, who were known for their ascetic lifestyle, lived on the fringes of the official church and were favourite targets for the inquisition.

In 1356, Rossell was appointed cardinal by Pope Innocent IV and given the name of Sant Sixt. Nevertheless, he is better known as the cardinal of Aragon. Afterwards, he lived in Avignon, from where stems his major works: a commentary of St. Mark, notes on his work as a high-ranking official in the Dominican Order as well as on his work as an inquisitor. As such, he was later remembered by the Franciscan, Anselm Turmeda, who went to Tunis and converted to Islam. While sojourning there at the end of the 14th century, he wrote in Catalan of Nicolau Rosell, mocking him for his inquisitorial preying upon the Franciscans. After his death in Barcelona in 1362, he was sailed to Mallorca and buried in the Convent de San Domingo. In 1836 his remains were transferred to the Cathedral.

The Missal of Roselli

Today, he is best known for his missal, now preserved at Torino in the Bibliotheca Nazionale. Sumptuously illuminated, it has unfortunately not as yet been digitised by the National Library in Torino. The only facsimile was published in 1906.

The manuscript holds two full illuminated pages, preceding the Canon (Crucifixion and Last Judgement), fifteen large miniatures, 285 historiated initials, and finally 144 initials with foliate ornament. Most initials continue into the margins, which are ornamented with a panoply of human figures, animals and grotesques. It begins with a calendar listing the major feasts and the labours of the months and is followed by the texts necessary for the celebration of mass.

It holds 425 leaves and measures 38 x 28 cm. The manuscript is well provenanced. On fol. 423 v, we may read how the manuscript was finished at the end of April 1361 after two and a half years of work by Alamannus and the painter, identified as Bernard de Toulouse. We are also told that the Cardinal of Aragon had it commissioned. It was likely made in Avignon in a Southern French style, a provenance corroborated by the source of the parchment, stemming from both calf and goat.

Recently the Missal was investigated by a group of scientists to fully characterise its colourants and the source of the parchment. The main colours were:

  • Black – carbons
  • Blue – ultramarine from Lapis Lazuli (sourced in Afghanistan)
  • Blue – indigo or woad. This colourant was primarily used as a mixture
  • Brown – red ochre
  • Gold – gold mixed with gypsum, Armenian bole, cinnabar, and lead white
  • Green – verdigris, or a mixture of woad with yellow ochre
  • Grey – lead white and carbon
  • Orange – read lead
  • Pink – read lead diluted with white lead
  • Purple _ woad mixed with brazilwood sourced from Southeastern Asia
  • Red – cinnabar or folium (from Callargues-le-Monteux)

The list with its mixture of locally sourced as well as expensive and exotic colourants clearly demonstrates the luxurious character of the missal. As such it  demonstrates the cultural identification of the Dominican inquisitor with his elated position at the papal court at Avignon; as opposed to his victims, the spirituals, the lesser Franciscans, and the Beguins, a group represented by the refugee, Anselm Turmeda.


Messale romano (Messale Rosselli), ms.D.I.21, (1361)


The Missal of Cardinal Rosselli
By Isa Ragusa
In Scriptorium 1975, Vol 29. No 1, pp. 47 – 58

The Messale Rosselli: Scientific investigation on an outstanding 14th century illuminated manuscript from Avignon
By Elisa Calà, Angelo Agostino, Gaia Fenoglio, Valerio Capra, Franca Porticelli, Francesca Manzari, Sarah Fiddyment and Maurizio Aceto
In: Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. Vol. 23, February 2019, pp. 721-730


La miniatura ad Avignone al tempo dei papi (1310-1410)
By Franco Cosimo Panini
Francesca Manzari 2007




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