On Wednesday 8 July we have our Western Manuscripts and Miniatures auction. Ahead of the sale we pick out some of the highlights.
One of the highlights from the sale is Lot 107, this carved wooden block for the production of playing cards through xylographic printing.
Renaissance playing cards are not as uncommon as one might think, and approximately thirty single cards have appeared on the market in the last two decades. Significant collections of similar cards to those produced from this print-block are recorded in the Cary collection in the Beinecke Library and the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest. However, this is the only surviving print-block traced by our specialist.
The style here, with figures pointing at their suit attribute, floral coins and bulbous-bodied fluted cups, is markedly close to a group of four closely related sets of cards identified by M. Dummet in A Survey of 'Archaic' Italian Cards as the work of a single workshop, perhaps in Venice or Ferrara. The Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, has other similar Italian examples from the early sixteenth century, but in a more stylised form than that found here. This print-block is evidently a product of the same workshop.
The cards here are the Ace, 2-7, Jack, Queen and King of the Italian suit 'Cups', followed by the same for 'Coins'.
Continuing through the sale we have Lot 125, this finely executed High Renaissance miniature on parchment, The Presentation in the Temple. It was perhaps always a free standing devotional image. It is finely painted with the a scene of Mary and Joseph presenting the Christ Child to a priest, before an adoring crowd on the steps of a temple.
When purchased in 1987 by Bernard H. Breslauer, a noted book and manuscript dealer, this miniature was attributed to the circle of Giulio Clovio (1498-1578), arguably the greatest illuminator of the Italian Renaissance. The palette, consummate skill of the artist and preponderance of architectural features such as long tall columns to divide up the scenes and draw the eye upwards to the detailed backgrounds, do lead back to his work. It was then exhibited in the Pierpont Morgan Museum. The exhibition catalogue then noted that the scene was in the main based on a print produced by Cornelis Cort in 1570, itself following The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple by Taddeo Zuccari.
Here what is novel in the scene is the substitution of the Holy Family for the Virgin and the addition of the three doves - the Morgan exhibition catalogue noting that the two in the foreground are usually carried into the scene as a sacrificial offering. However, it is striking that features such as the priest with his long face with high cheekbones and a straggling beard are markedly close to those elsewhere found in Clovio's work, yet are darkened and all but obscured in Cort's print. As noted in the Morgan exhibition catalogue, Rome in the second half of the sixteenth century provided multiple points of interaction between illuminators and printmakers with models and scenes flowing in both directions, with both Clovio and Frederico Zuccari (Taddeo's brother) commissioning Cort to make prints of some of their works, and those artists in turn frequently picking up and adapting scenes from prints. This miniature is the same grand size as the print, and clearly descends from it. It is perhaps a personal commission by a skilled Roman artist, perhaps taught by Clovio himself and perhaps a member of his immediate circle, to render Cort's print in paint on parchment as a private devotional image.
Towards the end of the sale we have Lot 139, this Book of Hours, Use of Paris, illuminated in part at least by Jean Pichore.
It was almost certainly written and illuminated in Paris in the workshop of Jean Pichore, c. 1500, probably for a female patron. Even following the removal of some six miniatures here, this is a fine example of the output of his workshop, with its distinctive style and craftsmanship, and some miniatures so refined they must be in his hand. The painting here shows the characteristic delicately finished faces, with small brushes of pink on cheeks, and with careful shading and fine penwork used to delineate facial features.
The subject shown here is Luke sitting writing his Gospel at a table.
Wednesday 8 July | 2pm
16-17 Pall Mall, St James's, London SW1Y 5LU
This is an online auction with auctioneer.
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