FIVE INITIALS FROM A LAVISHLY ILLUSTRATED GRADUAL OF THE BEGINNING OF THE 16TH CENTURY: AN EXCEPTIONALLY RICH PROJECT OF DECORATION
ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM, from a Gradual, in Latin.
Beginning of 16th century.
(71x67mm.) THE CHRIST CHILD sitting on the grass and HOLDING A GLOBE against a short brown wall, beyond the wall a far landscape with high mountains and clouds, WITHIN AN orange INITIAL K with staves of acanthus leaves and jewels, highlighted in white, on a light pink ground of scattered flowers outlined in black. On the right trace of a four-line stave ruled in red.
(71x57mm.) A BOY CLUBBING A DOG in a mountainous landscape WITHIN AN INITIAL I of pale pink and blue acanthus leaves including a grotesque face, on a ground of liquid gold. On the left trace of a four-line stave in red and text.
(71x66mm.) AN ASCENDING SOUL helped by an angel ABOVE A LONG-HORNED STAG SWIMMING, in a large landscape, WITHIN AN INITIAL S of green, mauve, and orange acanthus staves, touched in white, on a yellow ground.
(75x71mm.) A MAN FROM BEHIND KNEELING IN PRAYER TO CHRIST, seated on a rainbow amongst the clouds of the sky (as at the Last Judgement), in a deep landscape, WITHIN AN INITIAL R with acanthus blue staves highlighted in white, on a green ground adorned with acanthus leaves and outlined in black. On the right fragment of a red four-line stave.
(67x68mm.) A MAN KNEELING BEFORE A PRIEST ADMINISTERING COMMUNION, on the back an altar with two women, jointing their hands in prayer and watching the scene, and an altarpiece of the Crucifixion, WITHIN AN INITIAL Q with blue acanthus leaves highlighted in white and adorned with pearls, on a green ground patterned with curling hairline tendrils and outlined by a double black fillet. On the right faint trace of a red four-line stave.
Framed all together; on the reverses remains of text and 4-line red staves; slight rubbing in a couple of places, else in very good condition.
According to the textual and musical fragments on the reverse of a couple of our cuttings, the five capitals come from a Gradual. Indeed, the K probably opened the Kyrie eleison (since there are remains of the Gloria on the reverse of the letter); the Q marked the Communion for Corpus Christi. The iconography also contributes to the identification.
The sophisticate acanthus staves are typical of early sixteenth century German initials in both illuminated and printed books. The illuminator of our initials, however, was aware of the rules and the power of the Renaissance painting, known in Germany trough the masterpieces of Dürer, Cranach and Altdorfer. The atmospheric landscapes characterized by distant silverblue shapes of mountains, the effect of the movement in the water, the smooth brush, the attention paid to details such as the subtle termination of the stave curled around Christ’s tiny foot or the costumes in the Communion scene (the woman’s one indicating a date around 1520) make this artist and accomplished painter of the early Renaissance.
The Gradual from which our initials came seems to have been lavishly adorned with historiated initials, not just for the introits. This rich project was exceptional and certainly reserved for very important books.
PROVENANCE: W.M. Voelkle and R.S. Wieck, The Bernard Breslauer Collection of Manuscript Illuminations, Cat. of the exhibition, New York, The Pierpont Morgan Library, 9 December 1992 – 4 April 1993, New York 1992, nos. 50-54.
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