Dominican Use, illuminated manuscript on vellum
[southern Germany, 1476]
Sm 4to, 160 by 120mm, 197 leaves (plus 3 paper at each end), complete. Collation: i-xvii10, xviii9 (viii a cancelled blank), xix10, xx8, single column of 18 lines in a professional late gothic German bookhand, extensive music in square notation on 4-line red staves, a few capitals touched in red. Simple red or dark blue initials throughout, larger initials often with human faces skilfully picked out in penwork, one very large ornately decorated initial in blue heightened with white penwork on burnished gold grounds opening the first Psalm, borders of delicately scrolling coloured foliage terminating in pointed flowerheads. The remaining Psalms with similar sized initials in red or blue with contrasting geometric penwork, some with drollery animals (often with dog-like faces) left in blank parchment within their bodies, or in blue or pink on burnished gold with pink tessellated squares or coloured foliage within their bodies and acanthus leaf sprays in margin. Occasionally annotated by a sixteenth-century hand giving German names for festivals and holidays, markers at numerous leaf edges in form of simple folded tags to allow easy finding of certain readings, occasional flaking, in robust and good condition, on good and heavy vellum. In sixteenth-century German binding of ornately tooled calf over wooden boards, probably by Thomas Drechsler of Frankfurt, scuffed and bumps in places, a few small holes to boards and losses to spine, wanting one brass clasp, in folding box.
- 1.Most probably written for use by a Dominican from southern Germany, with SS. Dominic and Catherine of Siena repeated in the Litany, and Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor and his wife Cunigunde pointing towards Bamberg, Sebald towards Nuremburg and Elizabeth of Hungary or of Thuringia towards Marburg. The volume is dated boldly in red medieval Arabic numerals “1476” at foot of text on last leaf.
- 2. As with many portable-sized Dominican books the volume seems to have travelled with an itinerant preacher, and by the mid-sixteenth century was in Frankfurt, where it was rebound with toolmarks of repeating rolls of saints above cartouches holding the text “Tu es Petrus et” (Matthew 16:18), “Apparuit benignitas” (Titus, 3:4), “Ecce Agnus Dei” (John 1:29) and “Data est mihi o[mnis]” (Matthew 28:18) identical to those on an Avicenna owned by Adam Lonicer bound by the Frankfurt master-binder Thomas Drechsler in or after 1560 (now Sibbald Library, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh; see also article on this binding in Journal of the Royal College of Physicians, 41, 2011, pp. 278-80) and a Regimen sanitatis Salernitanum published in Frankfurt by the heirs of Christian Egenhoff in 1582 (Princeton, RA775 .xR4 1582). It was likely in the possession of a Dominican of that city, and part of the library of the Dominikanerkloster there. That house was founded in 1233, and by the fourteenth century was the largest ecclesiastical presence in the city, serving as the site for royal coronations in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It was significantly expanded in the fifteenth century with the construction of an enclosed cloister. It was suppressed in 1803, and its goods and library dispersed by the city authorities over the next decade or so. The remaining medieval structures were destroyed by bombing in 1944.
- 3.The present volume seems to have remained in ecclesiastical use until at least the eighteenth century (when a small slip with a liturgical reading in a hand of that date was inserted, and with contemporary ex libris marks of “101” and “H” added to its front endleaves). It was in English-speaking private hands by the early twentienth century (it includes a typed description in English on a slipped in card of that date).
Text and decoration:
The volume comprises: Prayers, including the Our Father, Hail Mary and Credo, and doxologies and invitatories (fols. 1r-4r); a Psalter (fols. 4r-167v), with noted responses, verses and antiphons, ff. 4-167v; the Ferial canticles (including Benedicite, Te Deum and Benedictus) and a Litany (fols. 167v-186r); a set of 9 oration prayers (fols. 186r-187r); and hymns and antiphons (fols. 184v-197r).
The wealth and variety of decoration here, as well as the charming motif of leaving grotesque drolleries suspended in blank vellum within the bodies of the initials are Germanic monastic features of the fourteenth and fifteenth century, seen also in a dispersed Austrian antiphoner once in the collection of Jakob Heinrich von Hefner-Alteneck (1811-1903; see Semenzato auction, 25 April 2003, lot 197, and more recently Bloomsbury Auctions, 2 July 2019, lot 57) and another Dominican Psalter probably from Nuremberg (sold in Bloomsbury Auctions, 8 July 2015, lot 87, £28,000 hammer).
A handsome and particularly charmingly decorated monastic choir book of the later Middle Ages.