Western and Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures | 06 December 2017

Back to Catalogue

Lot no.


Three cuttings from a large Carolingian Theological Compendium

Sold for £6000

Est: £8000–12000

Three cuttings from a large Carolingian Theological Compendium , with a decorated geometric and animal initial, in Latin, manuscript on parchment [most probably France, ninth century (probably first half)]

Three long and thin strips, cut vertically from 2 leaves for reuse as gathering supports in later bindings, 2 of them fitting together to make a fragment of 295 by 105mm., with an initial ‘I’ (opening “In principio erat verbum …”, the beginning of the Gospel of John), two-thirds of the height of the fragment, formed from split bands with sections of geometric interlace, enclosing compartments of similar decoration on red grounds, and terminating in foliage and two tiny facing animal heads which hold sprigs of leaves in their mouths, the foot of the initial shaded with red to ‘lift’ it visually from the page, 6 lines of capitals shaded in red introducing and opening the text, and overall 22 lines of a fine and rotund Carolingian minuscule using the et-ligature integrally within words, a tall ‘s’ at the end of lines, an ‘e’ with a long and thin tongue, a long ‘r’ which extends far below the baseline and a squat ‘t’ whose cross bar sits at the top of its ascender and occasionally extends beyond the body of the character, other text titles in simple capitals, plus another similarly sized strip from the same parent codex, with remnants of 25 lines in same, 287 by 59mm., slight cockling and scuffing, and with small paper remnants adhered to edges, but overall in good condition

These fragments were recovered from the seventeenth-century French bindings of a printed set of Gerson’s Opera , once in the library of the Jesuits of Grenoble.

Few Biblical quotations sum up the spirit of rediscovery and rebirth of Christian Europe under Charlemagne as the opening of John’s Gospel. The last years of the eighth century and the beginning of the ninth, saw a new principio or beginning for Christian learning in which the manuscripts of the Gospels were studied, refined, corrected and copied again in imposing and elegant codices for distribution across the Empire. The parent codex of the present cuttings brought together theological readings, most probably for reading aloud and contemplation in a religious community. Here the Gospel of John sits alongside a Psalm Commentary by the scholarly titan of the late Antique world, Cassiodorus (c.485-c.585). He served both Theodoric the Goth and his successor Athanaric as the new barbarian masters of Rome, and in the establishment of a contemplative scholarly community at his estate of Vivarium, set the model for virtually all monastic communities to come. To these the third cutting adds the fundamental philosophical bedrock of the Homilies of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430). It is worth reflecting on the fact that when these lines were written, the works of these two late Antique writers were only between two and four centuries old, and thus this witness is closer to their age, than ours, by at least three times.

The Initial:
The form of the initial here suggests a West Frankish (ie. French) origin, with the short compartment of interlace work set on black in the upper part of its body being found in books from that region (see the Gallican Psalter of c. 800, now BnF. latin 13159; Trésors Carolingiens , 2007, no. 26) as well as the stylised leaves used to fill the compartment in the lower part of the initial (see the Gospel Book made c . 830 in the Paris region, now BnF. latin 11959; Trésors Carolingiens , no. 30). Close parallels exist in French books for the two facing dog-headed lacertine creatures in a fragment of a ninth-century Sacramentary (now Vienna, ÖNB, Theol. C.992; reproduced in H.J. Hermann, Die frühmittelalterlichen Handschriften des Abendlandes , 1923, pl. xxxvi), and the Arsenal Gospels (BnF., Arsenal ms. 592; Trésors Carolingiens , p. 208), as well as the single-lines stalks terminating in leaves similar to those they hold in their mouths in a copy of Sulpicius Severus, Epistola ad Aurelium (Vienna, ÖNB, Cod. 468; ibid., fig. 41). However, the complex and fluttering form of the acanthus-leaf foot of the initial has more in common with Rhineland models (compare the Bible, now Cologne, Dombibl. MS Dom 1; Évangélaires Carolingiens Enluminés , 1990, fig. 38, and Glaube und Wissen im Mittelalter , 1998, no. 25, p. 162), and the artist may have worked in a centre in the north east of modern France. The delicate red penwork shading and use of red wash to create the impression of the foot of the initial ‘lifting’ from the page is harder to find elsewhere, and may be the artist’s own technique.

Few comparable Carolingian leaves with any form of complex initial have appeared on the market in the last few decades. The most recent was a large initial ‘F’ on a damaged leaf from a Lectionary, made in the more abstract style of the second half of the ninth century, which appeared in the Schøyen sale at Sotheby’s, 10 July 2012, lot 33, realising £18,000 hammer.

Western and Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures

Wednesday 06 December 2017, 2.00pm

Bloomsbury London
Bloomsbury House
24 Maddox Street


Saturday 2 December
11am - 4pm
Sunday 3 December
11am - 4pm
Monday 4 December
9.30am - 5.30pm
Tuesday 5 December
9.30am - 5.30pm
Day of Sale from 9.30am

Important Information

This website includes general reports of the condition of the property for various lots in this Sale. The absence of any condition or condition report does not mean, or imply, that the lot is free from any damage or restoration. If you require a condition report, please click on the Enquire about this lot button on the lot details page. We are not professional restorers and do not undertake conservation, and we strongly recommend that you consult such a professional of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed report. Whilst we undertake every reasonable effort to provide a comprehensive representation of every item, prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition. Any statement, whether written or verbal made by The Fine Art Auction Group (trading as Dreweatts, Dreweatts 1759 and Bloomsbury Auctions), its staff and agents, is a subjective, qualified opinion and is only provided on this basis. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.


Artist's Resale Rights (“Droit de Suite”)

Lots marked with a delta symbol (δ) are subject to the Artist's Resale Right Law.The buyer agrees to pay Bloomsbury Auctions an amount equal to the resale royalty and we will pay such amount to the artist's collecting agent. Resale royalty applies where the Hammer price is 1,000 Euros or more and the amount cannot be more than 12,500 Euros per lot. The amount is calculated as follows:

Royalty For the portion of the Hammer Price (in Euros)
4.00% up to 50,000
3.00% between 50,000.01 and 200,000
1.00% between 200,000.01 and 350,000
0.50% between 350,000.01 and 500,000
0.25% in excess of 500,000

Invoices will, as usual, be issued in Pounds Sterling. For the purposes of calculating the resale royalty the Pounds Sterling/ Euro rate of exchange will be the European Central Bank reference rate on the day of the sale.