Illuminated manuscript in Latin on vellum

Northern Italy, probably Liguria (Genoa or Savona), 1447.


134 x 94 mm, 272 leaves on parchment: I7 (of I8, first blank excised); II-XII10, XIII8, XIV-XX10 (XX.10 blank); XXI10, XXII8, XXIII-XXVIII10; XXIX2 (blanks), justification 81 x 58 [26-7-25] mm, ruled in lead point for two columns, 30 horizontal lines ruled in light brown ink for 29 lines of text, regular Italian Gothic script [Southern Textualis Rotunda] in red and black by two hands, first on fols 1v-190r, second, smaller, thinner, less compressed and more elegant, on fols 192r-268r, both hands occasionally employing the humanist “d” with straight ascender, catchwords in black or red ink in the lower margin of last verso of quires. Rubrics in red, paragraph marks in blue, and two-line initials in alternating red and blue with contrasting pen-flourishing in purple or red throughout. 19 illuminated initials (4-9 lines high) in pink or blue with white tracery set against a ground of gold with foliate and floral decoration in blue, pink and green with foliate extensions in blue and green, often with a gold bezant at the end. In the Psalter the initials mark the beginning of the eight psalms (ps. 1, 26, 38, 52, 68, 80, 97 and 109) to be recited at Sunday Vespers. One nine-line illuminated initial “B”[eatus] (fol. 192v) in pink with white tracery set against a gold-leaf ground and depicting David at prayer set against a blue ground with white tracery, foliate extension in blue and green with a gold-leaf bezant. 2 illuminated initials and full borders: 1 ten-line initial “F”[ratres] (fol. 8r) in pink with white tracery set against a gold-leaf ground, depicting St Paul with sword preaching to the people, written space outlined by a gold-leaf bar border, including the bas-de-page bearing the coat-of-arms of the Cybo of Genoa supported by two winged putti in a green landscape with trees, rabbits and birds, the outer borders with foliate decoration in blue and pink interspersed with two green parrots, a green peacock and gold-leaf bezants; 1 seven-line illuminated initial “P”[rimo] (fol. 192r) in blue with white tracery set against a gold-leaf ground with floral decoration in pink, blue and green and full-border extensions of foliate design in shades of blue, pink and green with gold-leaf bezants, the Christogram “HIS” in the bas-de-page, inscribed in the blue ground at centre of a radiant sun in gold-leaf. Good quality parchment, in good condition, with large, clean margins, slight crease on first and last leaves (fols 1-6 and 243-270), ink occasionally fading or slightly erased, offprint on fol. 7v. Modern brown morocco binding.

This rare and charming volume includes a Temporal Breviary and Liturgical Psalter, i.e. service books used in the daily offices, both for the use of Rome. The Proprium de tempore (fols 8r-190r) provides the liturgy for the celebration of the Divine Office from the first Sunday of Advent according to the rite of the Roman Curia, with no further specification but for the inclusion in the litany (fols 74v-77r) of Zenobius, bishop of Florence, among the confessors, and of the Franciscan saints Francis, Clare and Elisabeth among monks and virgins respectively. It is dated 12 February 1447 and preceded by a table of rubrics (fols 1v-7r). The Liturgical Psalter (fols 192r-268r) supplies hymns, canticles, antiphones, versicles and responses according to the Cursus Romanus of the liturgy of the Hours and it is datable to the third quarter of the 15th century. The Temporal and the Liturgical Psalter were copied by two different scribes and at different times, with the Psalter probably dating to the early 1460s.

Nevertheless, the pen-flourished decoration of the minor initials and the beautiful illumination of the borders and major initials are consistent throughout the book and seemingly belong to the same decorative campaign, datable to the 1460s or early 1470s. The illumination was executed by an eclectic anonymous artist who was strongly influenced by the style of earlier and contemporary illumination from Lombardy in Northern Italy as suggested by the illuminated borders on fols 8r and 192r and the portrait initials on fols 8r and 192v (see A. De Floriani, “La miniatura in Liguria nella seconda metà del Quattrocento: un bilancio provvisorio”).

A connection with Northern Italy, and more specifically Liguria, is also suggested by the escutcheon in the bas-de-page and the depiction of a peacock in the border of the first page of the Breviary (fol. 8r), respectively identifiable as the arms and the emblem of the Cybos, a patrician family of Genoa. The nature of the text (a breviary for members of regular and secular clergy) and the cross above the shield, indicates an ecclesiastic of high status as the original owner. Two members of the Cybo family were created bishops and cardinals in the second half of the fifteenth century: Cardinal Giovanni Battista Cybo (1432-1492) bishop of Savona (1466-1472) and Molfetta (1472-1484), and his young cousin Cardinal Lorenzo Cybo de Mari (1450/1-1503), archbishop of Benevento (1485-1503). As the cross above the arms shows the single horizontal limb of an episcopal cross, rather than the double traverse of the archiepiscopal one, the owner was Giovanni Battista Cybo before his election to the papacy as Pope Innocent VIII on 29 August 1484.

In November 1466 Giovanni Battista was made bishop of Savona, a town to the west of Genoa in the region of Liguria in Northern Italy; at the time under the government of the Duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza. These political circumstances favoured the arrival in Liguria of artists from Lombardy who imported new models and a more sophisticated artistic style to provincial Liguria. It is therefore conceivable that the two texts, the Temporal Breviary and the Liturgical Psalter, were brought together, decorated and assembled in a single volume in Liguria (Savona or Genoa) as a gift to Cybo as Bishop of Savona. Through the depiction of Cybo’s peacock and of the partridge and white rabbits in the margins of the opening of the Temporal Breviary, the decoration of the book seems to bestow upon the bishop a life of splendour, wisdom and knowledge, purity and truth, resurrection and ultimately immortality.

This high quality manuscript for Cybo’s private devotion and therefore after his death probably remained in the possession of his family, whereas books belonging to him as pontiff were kept in the papal library (now the Vatican Library). The volume was certainly in use after the pope’s death as an unprofessional hand added two notes relating to the death of Innocent VIII and the election of his successor Alexander Borgia in August 1492 to fol. 272v.  It was possibly passed on to the pope’s cousin Cardinal Lorenzo Cybo de Mari, who had the pope’s tomb in the Vatican basilica completed by the leading painter and sculptor Antonio del Pollaiuolo in 1498 and his body buried in the bronze monument on January 1498. It is worth noting that the pope’s arms on the tomb are identical to those found in this book [see A. Wright, The Pollaiuolo brothers: the arts of Florence and Rome, New Haven, 2005, chapter XIII].

As the book is not listed in the inventory of the books bequeathed by Cardinal Lorenzo to the Cathedral of Benevento (see A. Zaro, “L’Inventario dei libri antichi della Biblioteca Capitolare di Benevento”, Samnium, viii (1935), pp. 5-25, in particular pp. 23-5), it is probable that it was passed on as a prized possession to other members of the Cybo family, including Cardinal Innocenzo Cybo (1491-1550), the grandson of Innocent VIII, appointed as cardinal by his uncle Leo X in 1513, and Cardinals Alderano (1613-1700) and Camillo (1681-1743).


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Book of Hours, Use of Rome, in Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum

probably Ferrara, Italy, 1460-1480.


81 x 61 mm, 382 leaves on parchment: I-IX10, X10 (with quires XI and XII inserted between leaves sixth and seventh), XI10, XII4, XIII-XXXI10, XXXII8, XXXIII-XXXVIII10, XXXIX4, XL6 (3 blanks), catchwords in lower margin of last verso of quires and trace of manuscript leaf-signatures on quires I-X and XIII-XXXVIII, repeating signature D on quire XXXIII; parchment flyleaf with conjoint pastedown at the beginning and end. Regular Italian Gothic script [Southern Textualis Rotunda] in red and black by two hands, the second copying the additional text in the Hours of the Virgin and the Italian prayers at the end. Rubrics in red and initials (1-2 line high) in alternating red and blue throughout. 14 initials (2-4 lines high), in blue or green set against a gold-leaf ground with foliate decoration and/or extensions in purple and green with gold bezants, marking the Hours within the Hours of the Virgin and of the Cross, and the beginning of Litany. 4 illuminated historiated initials, in blue, in foliate design with white tracery, set against gold-leaf grounds with foliate extensions in green and purple, and 4 full borders decorated with scrolling green leaves and flowers in blue, purple, green and yellow interspersed with gold bezants, on fols 21r, 165r, 269r and 313r: 1 six-line initial “D”[omine] (fol. 21r) historiated with the Virgin and Child, the original arms within the wreath at centre of the bas-de-page erased [gules, a central charge per pale with traces of one small object at either side and repainted as arms of same tincture with a column argent]; 1 six-line initial “V”[enite] (fol. 165r) historiated with the image of a skull set against a green field and blue sky; 1 six-line initial “D”[omine] (fol. 269r) historiated with David in prayer; 1 six-line initial “D”[omine] (fol. 313r) historiated with Christ as the Man of Sorrows.  Good quality parchment, well preserved, with large, clean margins. Thin wood boards sewn on three double-split spine bands of alum-tawed skin, two endbands with decorative sewing in alternating gold and red threads, and bookblock edges gilt and gauffered, all datable to the early sixteenth century. Red-velvet cover with fastening copper-alloy catch, inscribed “AVE”, red-velvet strap and fastening pin, with quatrefoil-shape base, at centre of lower cover (19th-century).

The volume includes the text necessary for the daily private devotion of religious and lay individuals according to the use of Rome.

Manuscript Books of Hours produced in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance were often beautifully produced and illuminated to reflect the wealth and sophistication of their patrons. The present book is no exception. It was written in a pleasing elegant and regular Italian Rotunda hand on white and supple parchment of the highest quality and decorated with charming initials and borders in bright colours and gold. The simple and yet elegant appearance and the small proportions suggest it was made for a cultivated female patron.

The four patron saints of Siena, Ansano, Savino, Crescenzio e Vittore, listed in the calendar at the beginning of the book (fols 1r-18v) and even more prominently among the martyrs in the Litany (fol. 297r-v), point to the Tuscan town as the place of origin. The palette of deep hues of blue, purple, green and yellow, the dark outlining of the figures, and the shapes of foliage and flowers in the borders identify the unknown artist as a close follower of the Sienese illuminator Bernardino Cignoni (d. 1496). Cignoni decorated manuscripts and documents for the Siena Cathedral and Chancery, and a number of local religious confraternities and aristocratic families, such as the Piccolomini and the Bichi (see M. Cignoni, “Bernardino Cignoni di Siena miniatore di libri (m. 1496)”, in Honos alit artes: Studi per il settantesimo compleanno di Mario Aschieri, Firenze, 2014, vol. 2, pp. 269-73). The depiction of the skull in the historiated initial at the beginning of the Office of the Dead (fol. 165r) is particularly close to Cignoni’s opening of the same Office in the Hours for Filitiana Bichi (now New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M 311, fol. 85 r). The patron of the present Hours also belonged to a prominent Sienese family, but her arms have been erased from the bas-de-page of fol. 21 recto. The original tincture was seemingly gules, with a charge in pale, now overpainted argent, and an unidentified object at either side of it.

Early in the early sixteenth century, the text for Terce and Sext in the Hours of the Virgin was replaced and a final quire containing three additional prayers in Italian added, the bookblock edges were slightly trimmed, gilt and gauffered, and the book possibly newly bound in a delicate velvet [?] binding. These changes probably occurred when the manuscript was passed on to a new owner, possibly a daughter or a niece, her name “Frasia” (for Eufrasia) recurring at the beginning of two of the Italian prayers (fols 377r with marginal maniculae and 379r), in which she is portrayed as a “misera peccatrice”. The book also shows a sample of her own writing in the words “o pecatrice frasia” added at the end of the last prayer by an unprofessional, yet educated early sixteenth-century hand (fol. 382v).

Frasia was a common name at the time among Sienese women and the literature relating to the cultural life in Siena in the first half of the century records the names of at least three Sienese noblewomen, Frasia Agazzari, Frasia Placidi de’ Ventury and Frasia Marzi, who wrote poetry and participated in the reunions – the so-called veglie – of the new Academia degli Intronati (founded in 1525; see Giovanni Paolo Ubaldini, Paradossa Quinta of his Dieci paradosse degli Academici Intronati da Siena, Milan, Gio. Antonio degli Antonii, 1564)

Despite a seemingly matching tincture (gules), none of the family arms of these gentlewomen can be identified with the original owner; a possible match is to be found in the arms of the di Niccoluccio family (gules, a ladder of four rounds per pale or between two estoiles of the same), with the gold ladder now substituted with a white column.


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Illuminated manuscript on vellum

France, Paris or Amiens, 13th century (2nd quarter).


146 x 95 mm, 656 leaves on parchment: I12, II-XII24, XIII26, XIV-XVII24, XVIII18, with no catchwords or leaf signatures; flyleaves at the beginning and end, the first and last used as pastedowns; modern foliation in pencil “1-655” repeating no. 521 (followed here). Justification 98 x 66/67 (30/31 x 5/6 x 30/31) mm ruled in lead point with two vertical bounding lines for two columns and 42 horizontal lines for 41 lines of text, with two extra horizontal lines; pricking holes for vertical bounders showing occasionally in the lower margins; two extra horizontal lines (3 mm apart) at circa 9-11 mm from upper ruled horizontal line and circa 15-19 mm from lower. Very small Gothic French bookhand (Textualis) deriving from glossing script, often called ‘pearl script’ (Perlschrift), in dark brown ink; less formal small Gothic hand influenced by documentary script for the added index of liturgical readings at end (fols. 653v-656v) (apparently unfinished); headings and highlighting of capitals in red, running-titles and chapter numbers in alternating red and blue capitals, versal initials in Psalms (fols 276r-303v) and Interpretationes (fols. 591r-653v; capitals not executed and dedicated space left blank from letter E onwards), chapter initials (2-15 lines high) in alternating red and blue with contrasting pen-flourished decoration throughout, 66 large puzzle initials (3-39 lines high, mostly 4-6 lines) in red and blue with pen-flourished decoration in red or red and blue, 78 large illuminated initials (from 3-line to column high, mostly 7-9 lines), in designs of spiralling foliage, occasionally inhabited by small dragons or other grotesque animals, in colours (blue, red, pink, green and white) and shell-gold. A few marginal 15th-century notes in light brown ink (see fols 248v, 425r and 425v, the latter by a Northern continental hand) and manicula in red (fol. 144v). Parchment (?) tabs marking the beginning of books removed. Thin parchment of good quality, with slight cockling, and a short cut at the fore-edge of some leaves caused by the removal of parchment tabs marking the beginning of books. Running titles occasionally cropped by the binder. C. 1500 binding, probably Flemish, light brown calf over bevelled wooden boards, sewn on four raised double-split spine bands, covers tooled in blind to a panel design, outer panel filled with a blind tooled heads-in-medallion roll, second panel with blind fleuron, rosette and leaves tools, and central panel semé with blind-tooled fleurons, with two long decorated brass catches at fore-edge of upper cover, and two stubs of calf-leather straps for fastening clasps (missing) secured at fore-edge of lower cover by two brass plaquettes; spine, edges and corners restored. 18th-century shelf marks on verso of third upper flyleaf and corner of lower pastedown; 19th century shelf mark “105/ 100_9 [or 1] i” in pencil at lower edge of upper pastedown. Preserved in wooden book box.

This charming and prettily decorated portable Bible is an untouched and unspoiled early example of the Parisian Bible of the 13th century. It was copied and decorated in the second quarter of the century, shortly after university theologians completed the standardization of the biblical texts. The new Vulgate had been created to facilitate university teachers and members of the preaching orders, who often travelled between universities, monasteries and church congregations in different parts of the country. It was therefore conceived as a text that could be copied in volumes of diminutive format, written on very fine parchment in the tiny formal Gothic script mostly used until then for marginal glosses. The new biblical vulgate started circulating in its final form about 1230. The present manuscript is therefore an early representative of the Parisian Vulgate. The text is complete and all the canonical prologues, each rubricated in full and decorated with an illuminated or a pen-flourished initial.

The initials are elegantly decorated with twirling rinceaux in colour and gold, and sometime include small dragons or other grotesque winged animals intertwined with the scrolling foliage. The puzzle initials, formed of interlocked scalloped segments in red and blue separated by a thin white line, are filled with curling pen-work decoration dotted in blue. A similarly curling and dotted decoration surrounds them and elongates into the margins in elegant pen strokes of red and blue. The style of the painted decoration resembles closely to works of the Parisian workshop known as the “Vie de saint Denis Atelier” (active 1230-1250) for the Benedictines of the Priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs in Paris and the Cistercians of Clairvaux Abbey (see Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de france, MS latin 233). It also closely recalls the style of manuscripts produced at the same time in Amiens, Northern France for the Benedictine Abbeys of Anchin, and Marchiennes (see Douai, Bibliothèque Municipale, MSS 18, 20 and 21). The small codicological feature of parchment tabs marking the beginning of books, now removed from the present manuscript, adds a further link to manuscript Bibles produced at Amiens for monastic use (see R. Branner, Manuscript Paintings in Paris during the Reign of Saint Louis; a Study of Styles, Berkeley, 1977, cat. 210, pl. X).

In the 13th century the manuscript was used in a monastic or ecclesiastical institution as indicated by the index of liturgical readings added at the end of the volume by a 13th-century hand which was more used to writing monastic cartularies or ecclesiastical deeds than liturgical books. The prominence given to the feast of St Vincent of Saragossa (22 January) at the beginning of the readings for the Proper of the Saints, suggests a particular devotion to the saint.  St Vincent is the patron saint of Macon and Viviers in France, Berne in Switzerland and Soignies in Belgium. A particular veneration for St Vincent and the probable Flemish origin of the fifteenth century binding combine to point to the collegiate church of St Vincent at Soignies as the probable 13th-century owner. St Vincent’s was built as the church of the Benedictine Abbey founded by St Vincent Madelgarius (d. 677), a Flemish nobleman. Soignies Abbey was dissolved and transformed in secular Chapter in the 11th century.

In the 17th century the book was in Prussia, in the possession of Johann Friedrich Bessel, a philologist of Tilsit, respondent and praeses at the Universities of Wittenberg and Helmstedt between 1654 and 1667. Left after Bessel’s death with others of his book to Christopher Horch Senior, possibly the father of the German physician Christopher Horch (1667-1754) of Berlin, it was given by Horch to an unidentifed individual on 13 February 1682 (“Hac Biblia manuscripta donata / mihi fuit à Dn. Christophero / Horch Sen. ex libris relictis / B. Dn. M. Besselj / Anno 1682 .d. 13 Febr.” on upper pastedown). The unnamed recipient of the book was probably either Heinrich Bartsch (1627-1702), councillor, treasurer and vice-mayor of Könisberg, who gave his collection to Könisberg Stadtbibliothek, or his son Heinrich Bartsch Jr (1667-1728), a jurist at the University of Wittenberg. In 1718 the library was opened to the public by Bartsch Junior, who donated his collection of Bibles.

In the 19th century the book was stamped “Stadtbibliothek Koenigsberg” twice in the lower margin of fol. 1 recto. The Bible is mentioned in the library catalogue A. Seraphim, Handschriften-Katalog der Stadtbibliothek Königsberg i.Pr., Königsberg i.Pr., 1909, p. 300. The library was destroyed by a bomb in August 1944. Since 1946 Königsberg has been part of Russia.


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Decorated Manuscript on Vellum.

Southern Spain, perhaps Grenada, or Portugal, c. 1600.


520 x 365 mm, 160 leaves, last numbered clxvii; I-XXI⁸ lacking 5ll. of text i.e. V₆, VI₇, IX₃, XIX₃ and XX₇ and 4 blanks: first and last and one from each of XII and XVI. Justification mostly 470 x 270 mm, in dark and light brown ink of varying quality in a very clean Spanish Rotunda, 6 staves of five lines per page in red with square and diamond shaped musical notation and text, sometimes interrupted by sections of text, most pages ruled in double blind lines, others in brown ink, from fol. 5-32 the written space is framed by double lines in black ink; original foliation visible in upper right in the second half of the codex, catchwords; rubrics in red, 90 elaborate calligraphic initials, 168 small painted initials (1-line + stave), 2 larger illuminated initials (2-line + stave). Heavy and sturdy vellum, typical for antiphonals, fleshsides and hairsides of vellum differ strongly in colour, few leaves broken in gutter, rather crude but functional repairs, a little water damage and ink bleeding, most pages are almost immaculate, some faded, minor ink erosion, occasional offprint, prickings in outer margins sometimes visible. Illumination overall in good condition. Remains of candlewax on inner side of front cover and scattered throughout the manuscript bear witness to its frequent use.

Beautiful contemporary, early 17th-century binding, calf over heavy wooden boards with delicate metal bosses and cornerpieces. Very soft spine, cracked at lower front, five raised bands, heavy headbands and thick threads in the quires, edges in red, remains of two clasps. Incipit: “Ecce nomen domini venit de longin quo et claritas..” (Isaia, 30, 27, Magnificat Antiphon at Saturday Vespers before the first Sunday of Advent) Explicit: “Crucem sanctam subiit qui infernum confregit” (Antiphon for Eastertide from Whitsunday).

This large antiphonal covers the liturgy from first Sunday of Advent to Eastertide. Its very heavy construction made it suitable for a high lectern for all members of the choir to be seen. With its very accomplished calligraphic initials and its 170 colourful painted initials it is quite lavishly decorated. Two larger initials (e.g. on fol. 30v) show an almost baroque approach to older Renaissance forms of grotesques, festoons, fruitbaskets and architectural floral elements. These two large initials open the liturgy of first Christmas day and Epiphany. The initials are painted on coloured square grounds, mostly in red and blue, with golden tendriled and spiralling decoration in liquid gold or silver. The smaller initials sometimes include charming faces of putti or masks and are in general quite playful in the arrangement of foliage that forms the letters.

There are two different types of painted initials, probably by different hands. One shows monochrome letters in almost austere, but elegant and humanistic shape on square grounds that could be either dotted or decorated with tendrils, while the other has polychrome initials formed of different kinds of leaves and foliage in 2 forms that are derived from renaissance Italian illumination. Both share the same palette for the square grounds and decoration, so we may assume that both painters worked in the same workshop. In addition to the style of the accomplished Spanish rotunda and calligraphy, the illumination points to Spain as place of origin. The more elegant initials resemble those in MS Egerton 3296 of the British Library, the Carta executonia de Hidalguia which was made for Philipp II in 1597 (cf. in particular fol. 59v). That manuscript was made in Grenada.

The contemporary binding is particularly beautiful and well preserved, which is rare. To find an antiphonal with all traces of long and continuous liturgical use in its contemporary binding is an unusual pleasure, as so many have been dismembered, and the bindings lost. The present binding with its delicate brasswork also points to Portugal or Southern Spain around 1600 or the early 17th century. Provenance: French private collection. No signs of earlier provenance distinguishable. An ornate, later, but not modern, cast iron book stand, perhaps constructed for this volume, is included in the price.


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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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