Western and Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures | 06 December 2017
Ferial Psalter and Hymnal, of Franciscan Use , in Latin
Sold for £8500
Ferial Psalter and Hymnal, of Franciscan Use , in Latin, illuminated manuscript on parchment [Italy (perhaps Lombardy), c. 1475]
274 leaves (plus original pastedown), wanting a few leaves from end, else complete, collation: i-xix10, xx8, xxi-xxvii10, xxvii6 (wanting last 4 leaves), plus one extra gathering of 5 leaves (that wanting last 3 leaves), catchwords and contemporary alphabetical gathering signatures and numeric leaf signatures within each gathering, double column of 16 lines in two sizes of a good late gothic bookhand, red rubrics, one-line initials in red or blue with whip-like extensions horizontally from their corners, 2-line initials in same with ornate contrasting penwork, twenty large initials in striking purple, green and blue acanthus leaves on brightly burnished gold and silver grounds (the grounds often arranged in quarters of these two metals, the silver partly oxidised and dull grey; fols. 1v, 2v, 49r, 71r, 89r, 107v, 135v, 157v, 186v, 190v, 194v, 199r, 204r, 207r, 210r, 212v, 218r, 223v, 229r 235r), these enclosing sprigs of coloured foliage with gold fruit or baubels on blue grounds, the largest with coloured ornamental capitals forming rest of opening words, foliate extensions spilling over into margins and with large gold and silver bezants with single line eyelash-like penwork tails, marks from some leaf-tabs (now removed), others present, some water damage to a few leaves, staining and cockling in places throughout, slight flaking to ink of a few pages only (mostly affecting catchwords), small spots and occasional wormholes, else in outstanding condition, 378 by 260 mm.; in late medieval wooden boards and sewing structures (sewn on 5 large double thongs), all covered with modern tan leather, one working clasp (one missing)
1. Written and illuminated c. 1475 for a Franciscan house, probably in Lombardy: the hymns to St. Francis (fol. 262v), his Stigmatisation (fol. 259v), and SS. Clare and Anthony of Padua (fols. 256r and 251r), identify the codex as of Franciscan Use.
2. Les Enluminures, Text Manuscripts 4: Sacred Song, Chanting the Bible in the Middle Ages and Renaissance , 2014, no. 2.
This volume contains a Ferial Psalter (fol. 1r) and a Hymnal (fol. 235r, opening “Incipit hymnarius et primo Sabbato de aduentu domini …”). The five additional near-contemporary leaves of hymns include a Gregorian chant favoured by the Capetian dynasty, the Beata Nobis Gaudi , two hymns composed by Archbishop John Peckham of Canterbury, d. 1292, and Thomas Aquinas’ hymn, Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium , written for the Feast of Corpus Christi.
The illumination of this large and imposing choirbook raises fascinating questions about its origin and who participated in its production. It has previously been connected to other liturgical codices produced in or around Moderna or Parma (Sacred Song , 2014), but the differences are perhaps stronger than the similarities. The palette here is richer and darker (especially in the deep purple), and the profusion of thin foliage tendrils whipping around the bodies of the letters add a vitality and energy to the initials here for which is hard to find parallels. The penwork scrolling through the bezants is finely executed and might point towards the region around Ferrara, but what is perhaps most striking is the use of silver in the grounds of some of the initials and their neighbouring bezants. In medieval Europe, silver was mastered by only a handful of book-producers. The raw material, unlike gold, tarnishes quickly and is remarkably difficult to stick to the page, and as Cellini states in Il Libro del Arte , “know that above all you are to work with silver as little as you can”, advising the use of beaten tin if one insists on achieving the same effect. In the late Middle Ages the skill was perfected in the artistic communities under the patronage of the fantastically wealthy Burgundian dukes in the southern Netherlands, probably while striving to create a novelty for their patrons (see the ‘Black Hours’, New York, Pierpont Morgan Museum, M.493, the ‘Black Prayerbook’, Vienna, ÖNB, Codex Vindbonensis MS. 1856, and the small Book of Hours, sold by Sotheby’s, 29 June 2007, lot 34). From here it spread in the later fifteenth century to sporadic use by a number of workshops in the Low Countries and Germany to highlight windows, water and other reflective surfaces, and was occasionally used in Renaissance coats-of-arms in books, but outside of the latter remained almost unheard of in Italian volumes. A small number of surviving items, such as the Agostino Hours (Victoria and Albert Museum, MS. 111: R. Watson, Western Illuminated Manuscripts , II, 2011, pp. 599-601, which was written in Italy but partly illuminated in the Southern Netherlands with thick silver frames to some of its miniatures) as well as paintings commissioned in the Low Countries by Italian nobles (see for example, Jan van Eyck’s work for Giovanni Arnolfini) attest to a strong Italian interest in the art of northern Europe. The workmanship of the metal here is refined and skilfully executed, and we might suspect the direct hand of a book artist from the Low Countries, or at least one who trained there.
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