Illuminated manuscript vellum leaf from a Gradual

Northeastern Italy or Dalmatia, 1300.


Large folio (c. 52 x 38 cm), initial ‘E’ measuring 10.5 x 9 cm, with a blue ground set within a burnished gold field, depicting Saint John the Baptist to the left, one hand on Christ’s shoulder, Christ to the right, standing naked in a mound of stylized water, with a gold and orange cruciform halo, the initial joined by a short curl of foliage to a three-sided border with swirling acanthus foliage in blue, red, sage green and gold discs. In a gothic bookhand in dark brown ink in three sizes, the largest for text accompanied by five lines of musical notation on red staves with neumes, the middle size for rubrics (in red) and cues to the offertory and communion, the smallest for liturgical directions (9 lines; underlined in red), small initials alternately blue with red penwork flourishing, or vice versa; occasional surface wear, vellum with natural flaws; framed and glazed (not examined out of frame).

The initial opens the introit for the feast of Epiphany, ‘Ecce advenit dominator [dominus on verso]’ (Behold, the Ruler, the Lord is come). Epiphany (spelled consistently ‘ephyphania’ on this leaf) is the oldest feast day of Christianity with a fixed date (January 6). Epiphany was celebrated from the early fourth century onwards to commemorate the baptism of Christ, his birth and the miracle of the Wedding at Cana. In the West the feast became more associated with Christ being revealed to the Three Magi. The iconography of the initial is clearly Byzantine. The only place in the Latin West where this was possible around 1300 is the Northeast of Italy and the opposite coast of the Adriatic Sea with its strong Byzantine traditions and historic links with the Eastern Empire. Torcello, Grado, Venice, Ravenna and the Dalmatian coast were areas where Byzantine iconography survived up to the Renaissance, although they followed the Roman Rite. The baptism scene in this initial represents a rather minimalist version of the event: reduced to only Saint John and Christ, without the hand of God or the dove of the Holy Spirit above.

In regards to origin and iconography (including ortography), an unusual illuminated manuscript leaf.


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