Decorated manuscript on vellum with three illuminated initials.

Northern Italy, probably Lombardy or Ferrara, c.1440-1450.


132 x 92 mm, 221 leaves + 1 flyleaf at front and back, complete, I-XVI10, XVII8, XVIII-XXI10, XXII10-1 (lacks 1 blank), XXIII2+3, justification 75 x 60 mm, ruled in blind lines for two columns of 30 lines, in a very regular, tiny and experienced hand with many abbreviations in a Southern Textualis in two sizes; catchwords. Rubrics red, versals touched in yellow, two-line initials alternating in red and blue, most of which with penwork decoration. 3 illuminated initials: 1 figurated nine-line initial F (fol. 1) with full border in the margin consisting of a four-sided bar around the text and flowers, birds, parrots, spray, pollen and tendriled hairlines, 1 seven-line initial P (fol. 25), 1 five-line initial D (fol. 166v). The opening of fols. 166v-167 was enhanced with a charming and captivating decorative grotesque of St Michael and the Dragon in monochrome green tones. The underlying pen and ink drawing is very accomplished and made to appear as if part of the original decoration. Very clean and wide margins, prickings still visible in upper and lower margins, fine parchment, very few stains or darkening of vellum, overall crisp condition, illumination in fine condition as well, the green dragon a very little flaked. Modern calf, blind tooled, one clasp. Incipit: “Incipit in nomine domini breviarium usum consuetudinem romane curie in primo sabbato de adventu Ad vesperas Capitulum// Fratres scientes quia hora est …” => beginning of the ecclesiastical year on first of advent Explicit: “Et posui seyr [sic!] montes eius in solitudinem et hereditatem eius in drachones deserti. Explicit dominicale officium tocius anni” => verse from the daily proper of the mass.

The manuscript contains the Proprium de tempore, the temporal of the Roman breviary with no further local specifications. The rubrics mark the beginnings of liturgical sections and sometimes give notifications for the day. Both the neat script and the very thin high quality vellum suggest it was intended as a portable reference tool, perhaps for a wealthy priest or scholar. The three initials mark the beginning of the ecclesiastical year in advent, the liturgy for the Nativity of Christ “Primo tempore alleviata est terra zabulon” and the opening of the liturgy for Pentecost “Deus qui hodierna die corda fidelium”. The decorated initials, the first with a portrait of St Paul, including the border decoration on the first folio, link the manuscript to northern Italy. The blue and green acanthus leaves springing from the initials, the form and design with sprouting buds and green leaves on top, the mauve corpus and the burnished golden grounds argue for a workshop outside the centres of book illumination of Ferrara or Milan around 1450.

In the absence of a calendar, the litany and the sanctoral, the painted decoration and its style are the only indicators to location and date. Our artist might have been a follower of masters like Giorgio d’Alemania, who was active in Ferrara between 1441 and 1462, in Modena around 1476. It is interesting to note that the liturgy of Pentecost, doubtless a major feastday, is enhanced with an illuminated initial (fol. 166v), rather than Easter Sunday, which is regarded as the most important feast of the ecclesiastical year. And while the encounter of St Michael with the dragon would have matched the symbolism of the Resurrection, as Christ had vanquished the powers of the evil in rising from the dead, it seems a bit out of place in connection with Pentecost. This extraordinary marginal decoration must have been added to the manuscript at a point when the liturgical function of the book was not its prime purpose. The well accomplished combination of spiralling floral ornament and the animated form of dragon and human figure, one almost emerging from the other, evokes the spirit of the Italian baroque, as it is found, for example, in Polifilo Zancarli’s and Odoardo Fialetti’s so-called ‘Vertical Grotesques’.

A series of ornament etchings at the British Museum and Harvard Art Museum suggest that it was published in Venice between 1600 and 1630. (Many of his grotesque designs can be browsed on the website of The Metropolitan Museum of Art). The playfulness of the design could well point to the early 17th century. On the other hand, there is a very striking similarity with a particular dragon from a late Renaissance calligraphy book, now in the Newberry Library at Chicago: Wing MS ZW 545.S431, letter S. This was written in England in 1592 by John Scottowe, who died in 1607. Our dragon is astonishingly similar to one there, its form only slightly adjusted to the marginal space it covers in the present manuscript. Without knowing the precise provenance, it will probably be impossible to prove how a pattern from a late 16th-century English calligraphy book could have found its way into a mid-15th-century Italian breviary, but this motif with only slight variations was known in Europe before 1600, and could have been added at that date. Either the model of this dragon was very widely spread among scribes and calligraphers, or, the manuscript was once in the collection of an English calligrapher. The green and blue monochrome tones of the modelling hint at an artist who intended to somehow ‘medievalize’ his work and perhaps adjust it to the period of the manuscript. The colouring is typical neither for the 17th nor 15th century.

Provenance: The original provenance of the manuscript is hard to establish as the breviary does not include a calendar or a litany. Moreover, it seems to be complete without the sanctoral. The very few annotations usually only amend the text, but do not profile an early owner. A number in pencil on the front pastedown 128/12954 [47905] is in a German handwriting, so we may assume that the manuscript was in a German private collection.

BMC V 561. Goff P.296. IGI 7428. Renouard 19:2 “Première édition d’une grande rareté”. Brunet IV 505 “Livre fort rare”.


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Manuscript in Latin on Vellum.

Milan, 14th Century.


8vo. 12 x 16.5 cm, ff. (234); (1)8, (2)10, (3)10, (4)10, (5)10, (6)10, (7)8, (8)8, (9)8, (10)8, (11)8, (12)11, (13)8, (14)8, (15)8, (16)4, (17)10, (18)22, (19)10, (20)10, (21)10, (22)10, (23)10, (24)10, (25)10; 25 to 31 lines, double column in black ink with red captions and passages, two historiated initials in red, blue, pink, off-white and liquid gold with floral extensions along margins, numerous initials in blue or red; fol 2₁₀ deliberately excised at early date, probably erroneously as a result of the catchword being misplaced on 2₉ rather than 2₁₀; initial and final two leaves with mainly marginal spotting, a few leaves with minor abrasions, spots or smudges; generally a good clean and very well margined copy in English Regency calf, covers with gilt-tooled borders; rebacked and with restorations.

This Latin handbook with instructions and liturgical texts for saying mass for the priest’s use is of Milanese origin, as is clear from the style of the historiated initials. The script, produced by more than one scribe, has the vestiges of a French influenced hand. It opens with ‘Incipit ordo missalis secundum consuetudinem Curiae Romani,’ and with the splendid initial depicting King Solomon at prayer. Leaf (99) opens with the second historiated initial, depicting Christ on the cross. The rubricated passages indicate the priest’s gestures and liturgical actions; the size of handwriting varies throughout the text in order to mark different parts of the liturgy.

Because of the daily use of missals for the celebration of mass, their survival rate has been lower than of other liturgical volumes and their production was much smaller than for books of hours. Consequently, nice copies especially from the fourteenth century are rare.

Provenance: Calligraphic inscription on initial blank paper leaf stating that the book was ‘once resting (olim quieverat)’ in the library of Abbé Luigi Celotti (1759 – 1843), an Italian art dealer and collector of illuminated miniatures and that, in 1821, it was given by Henry Drury to one William Thornton of Harrow. Henry Drury (1778 – 1841) was rector of Fingest, Buckinghamshire, from 1820 master at Harrow, and a renowned book collector, whose manuscripts were sold via auction in 1827 in London. He was an original member of the Roxburghe Club and a friend of the bibliographer Dibdin, who mentioned him repeatedly in his writings.


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MISSA BEATAE VIRGINAE, et aliae Orationes

Bologna, 1494.


12mo. 66 x 95 mm. Illuminated manuscript on vellum. Ff. (ii) 145 (ii), fol.31 with full page illumination depicting the Virgin and the Infant Christ within full-page border, scrolling decoration at head and foot on a red and green ground, urns and flowers with jewels and pearls on a deep blue ground, text slightly worn, shield at foot azur an eagle or with initials N.M., fol. 66 with elaborate illuminated 5-line D with stave of flowers, leaves, scrolls, jewels and pearls on crimson, blue and gold grounds, one-line crosses in red and blue. In Rotunda Italiana script, 11 lines per page, in Latin, some rubrics in Italian towards the end. Two-line liquid gold illuminated letters on red, blue and green grounds with scrolling decoration, initial letters with traces of gold, partially rubricated. Text slightly faded in places on hairside only. Occasional slight marginal soiling, oil-stain to blank outer corner of last three leaves. Generally very good and clean in early 19th C black morocco, panel stamped with the Malpassuti (di Tortona) (?) arms and quadruple-ruled in blind. Title and ex libris of Isabella Sofia Commercati (c.1800) added to the recto and verso of the first and last leaves respectively. Light blue watered silk endpapers with bookplates of Pamela and Raymond Lister and Michael Tomkinson, all edges gilt. In folding box.

A charming pocket-sized liturgical work, apparently not corresponding to any of the principal liturgical books. Ff. 1-19 contain a calendar of saints. The only irregular Saints appearing here are Saint Petronius, indicating a Bolognan provenance, Mark the Evangelist and the apostle Barnabas. Ff. 20-51v comprise the Mass of the Virgin. The Confiteor, Misereatur and Blessing are followed by the Pericopes arranged in chronological order (John 1, 1-14; Luke 1, 26-37; Matthew 2, 1-12; Mark 16, 14-20). The striking and colourful full-page illumination marks the start of the Mass of the Virgin. It opens with psalm 44, before moving onto a farced Gloria with additional tropes specifically for the Marian mass, a collect, epistle, gradual, the Nicene Creed, Ave Maria, Eucharistic prayer II, the Preface of Mary, Sanctus, Agnus, Benedictus, Salve Regina, the Marian antiphons, Psalm 90, prayers of Saint Augustine, and on the Passion. Ff. 51v-81 contains the prayers of St. Brigit on the passion of Christ and 81v-85 of St. Anselm. Ff. 86-134 contain the seven penitential psalms and litanies beginning with a lovely elaborate illuminated letter, then follow prayers of St. Bernard from ff. 135-138r. Ff. 138v to the end give the prayers used at the Lateran Basilica in Rome and for papal indulgences.

Originally written for ‘Jacopo,’ whose name appears several times in the text in the same hand, reference is made to St. Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, thus giving a clue to the date of the book as after 1494, when Anselm was canonized by Pope Alexander VI. The small size of the book indicates private use, albeit at public celebrations, and the arms and initials within the full-page illumination indicate a lay origin. The clear and elegant calligraphy – the very regular rotunda script representative of a high-end scribal production for a wealthy patron – and style of illumination point towards the circle of the famed calligrapher Sallando, though not his hand, and the illuminator Marmitta, both of whom were working in Bologna in the last decade of the 15th century, and who made use of a palette of strong, dark colours and foliage. The N.M. monogram at the foot may indicate an earlier member of the Malpassuti family.

While we have been unable to trace the Comercati family, the Malpassuti family originate from Tortona in Lombardy.


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Historiated initial ‘E’, cut from an illuminated choirbook on vellum.

Central Italy, first half of 14th century.


(164×125 mm.) Half-length rising Christ wrapped in a red cloth and showing his wounds in the upper compartment and two angels either side of the tomb with an open book in the lower compartment, on light pink ground, within an initial E with acanthus staves in blue and red, on blue adorned with white tracery and large gold bezants and outlined in black. On the right edge traces of four-line red staves and text. On the reverse lines of text and 4-line red staves. (Framed; a couple of waterstains touching the initial on the right side, a sign of folding in the middle; otherwise good).

This initial might have introduced the Easter antiphon “Et respicientes”, as the representation of the Resurrection suggests.

The strength and beauty of this work is due to its fresh simplicity. The style, essential and genuine, with its palette of colour is evocative of 14th century illumination from the central regions of Italy, perhaps Tuscany.


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Manuscript Vellum Leaf from an Antiphonal.

Italy, c. 1420.


Large folio (c.  45 x 32 cm), seven lines of text and musical notation in neumes in red and black on both sides, recto with a large ornamented initial in red and blue, and two smaller initials (one in red, the other in blue) red markers, later pagination in upper right-hand corner, minimal surface wear and very light spotting in places only; a decorative and well-preserved leaf, mounted, both sides displayable.

The initial opens the text to be sung at Michaelmas (September 29) ‘In tempore illo consurget Michael,’ which is  based on chapter 12 of the Book of  Daniel, where the Archangel, patron Saint (in the Western Church) of sick people, mariners, and grocers is described as ‘the great prince who standeth for the children of Thy people.’ The large format and letters enabled the assembled clergy ‘to sing from one sheet.’


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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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CARACCIOLO, Marino II, Prince of Avellino

Highly decorative and unusually large law degree certificate.

Naples, 8 June 1627.


Manuscript in brown ink on fine vellum (56 x 76 cm), 42 lines including ornamental heading gilt, ornate floral decorations in blue, magenta and orange, in a legible humanist minuscule, several words in gilt capitals, outer and upper margins with wide ornamental borders in five colours and gilt, incorporating two coats-of arms, two portrait medallions in corners and one medallion depicting the Virgin consoling Christ on the Cross; small hole in lower margin and semi-circular from lower edge slightly, affecting ornamental border (perhaps due to loss of seal). A very good copy, lightly spotted in places; mounted, framed and glazed.

This splendid late humanist document conferring a law degree from Naples University to the 21-year old Giovanni Tomaso Compara (of the Neapolitan family now known as Acampora, or D’Acampora) was issued under the auspices of Marino Caracciolo, member of one of the most powerful Neapolitan patrician families. Marino II was Lord High Chancellor of the kingdom, and as such had the right to grant the doctor’s cap or laurea. As Prince of Avellino (1617-30) his Southern Italian town grew considerably and developed into a regional cultural centre. The court attracted artists and writers, such as Giambattista Basile, renowned for one of the earliest collections of fairy tales in Europe, the Neapolitan Cunto delli cunti.

Campora passed his degree of canon and civil law ‘summo cum honore, maximisque laudibus’ and this certificate, intended for display, entitles him to ‘lecture on both laws, interpret, comment and practice it’. One of the coat-of-arms is that of Caracciolo, it contains a depiction of the golden fleece of the Imperial order of which he was a knight. The other is most likely the Compara family. In the upper corners are portraits of Saint Francis Xavier, the co-founder of the Society of Jesus, depicted as usual with his hands crossed in front of his chest. The other, fictitious, is that of Thomas Aquinas, one of the most notable alumni of the University of Naples.

Manuscripts of this type are not uncommon but the dimensions, richness, and quality of the decoration of this example are exceptional.


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Illuminated Manuscript in Latin on a leaf from an Antiphonal.

Central Italy, mid-14th century.


Folio (475 x 340 mm). On recto seven four-line staves in red, music in square notation alternating with seven line text in brown ink in a gothic bookhand; a couple of initials with pen-work flourishing, in red with blue, in blue with red; numbered 291 on upper margin. INITIAL I (body: 145 x 25 mm) composed wholly of a human figure with hat, dressed in light blue and red, on a blue background with white tracery; leafy extensions in light pink and blue developing from the hat and the feet into the inner and upper margins. On verso seven four-line staves in red, music in square notation alternating with seven line text written in brown ink in a gothic bookhand; red pen-work initial with blue flourishing. Slightly worn in the lower part with loss of a few letters, otherwise good.

TWO VERY APPEALING LEAVES FROM A MID-14TH CENTURY ANTIPHONAL DECORATED BY A CENTRAL ITALIAN ARTIST. The initial I opens the response ‘In montem Oliveti oravi ad patrem pater si fieri potest’ on Holy Thursday. According to the Catholic liturgical year, these two leaves marked, in the same Antiphonal, the beginning and the end of Lent (from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday).

Two early attractive, unsophisticated leaves; the characteristic foliate extensions, the palette of delicate colours and the style indicate a Central Italian origin (possibly Tuscany), from the mid-14th century.


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ADORNO, Agostino

Manuscript Letter.

Genoa, 1496.


One sheet, 20.5 x 29.5cm, paper, autograph letter signed 30 March 1496, 16 lines (plus signature), Latin in a very neat, humanistic italic, brown ink, paper wafer seal and docket to verso, some spotting and light browning from seal, watermark of a bird encircled from Ferrera, probably early C15 (Briquet 12.118).

The letter is addressed by Adorno to the ‘Brothers and Friends of the Antiani of Genoa’. The Antiani had been instituted in Italian cities since the 13th century as representatives of the plebian class, an updated version of Roman tribunes. Adorno asks that the Antiani grant pardon to Thomas Beti, whose ‘excellence’ Adorno hopes to ‘make well known to strangers’ as well as ‘brothers and friends’; Beti is described as a ‘ready speaker, eloquent in persuading’ and powerful in negotiation.

Agostino Adorno was appointed governor of Genoa in 1488 by Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, who gained control of the city that year. Although the Adorni were one of the most powerful merchant families, Agostino’s appointment began a period of crisis for the former republic. Sforza used Genoa to bolster his own forces in the first of the Italian Wars (1494-98) against Venice, and by encouraging Charles VIII of France to invade Italy set the groundwork for an alliance that would result in the invasion of Milan.

The year this letter was written, Sforza’s overthrow was already well under way, and with it the Adorni’s exile. Since the 14th century, there had been a struggle for power between Genoese aristocrats and the rising mercantile class, which Adorno obliquely refers to in this letter when he speaks of a ‘stirred up republic’ (republica versatus) that has distracted attention from Thomas Beti’s cause. Gian Luigi Fiesco, a prominant Genoese aristocrat, encouraged French invasion. In 1498, Louis XII invaded and captured Milan, and when his forces entered Genoa no resistance could be mounted because Adorno had diverted his forces to Milan at Sforza’s command. When Adorno withdrew from Genoa, Fiesco took over and for the first time since 1339 the aristocracy was back in charge.

Malleson, Studies from Genoese History. Coles, “The Crisis of Renaissance Society Genoa 1488-1507, 17-47.


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