• Valuable Manuscripts and Print auction at Christies

    Sale 7760

    Valuable Manuscripts and Printed Books

    24 November 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 4

    LIFE OF CHRIST, engravings by MASTER S, printed on vellum and illustrating the Rosarium aureum, Golden Rosary, added in manuscript in Latin

    Price Realised  


    LIFE OF CHRIST, engravings by MASTER S, printed on vellum and illustrating the Rosarium aureum, Golden Rosary, added in manuscript in Latin

    [southern Netherlands, c.1516]
    105 x 75mm. 43 vellum leaves on paper stubs, each recto with full-page hand-coloured engraving (75 x 52mm), versos with four or five lines of original text in a semi-cursive hand in black, with ruling and flourishing in red and repeated or added prayers in later hands below (apparently lacking at least three engravings, some light marginal spotting or browning, occasionally just touching image, final verso browned, faint crease across one print). Early 20th-century red/brown morocco gilt by Douglas Cockerell (1870-1945) for W.H. Smith & Sons.

    This cycle of prints was produced in the southern Netherlands. The texts added when the sheets were gathered together to make a devotional book conclude with a colophon describing the text and, apparently, giving the date of writing as 1516, 'Explicit rosarium gloriose virginis Marie cum articulis dominice passionis Ao xvi'. The texts were repeated in a less formal hand by a later owner, presumably as an act of piety.

    Baron Adalbert von Lanna (1836-1909), Prague (each verso bearing the Lanna Collection stamp with number supplied in pencil; recorded there by Hollstein, Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts, XIII, p.124, as acquired by Halle). Hollstein cites plates 14-59, which is consistent with the gaps in the foliation suggesting that three plates were removed in the 20th century.

    Charles William Dyson Perrins (1864-1958): his bookplate inside upper cover and by descent to his niece, the late Frances Mary Joan Griffith (neé Seddon).

    These 43 engravings are from a series of small devotional images by Master S, an engraver who was active in the southern Netherlands c.1520 and named from the monogram which appears here in almost every print. Inspired by artists including Dürer, Lucas van Leyden and Dirk Vellert, he has sometimes been identified with the goldsmith and engraver Sanders Alexander van Brugsal (d.1530/45), who was recorded in Antwerp in 1505 and again in 1516 when he entered the Guild of St Luke (as 'Meester Alexander, goutsmit'); the master's only dated works were commissioned at the death of Maximilian I in 1519. Hollstein records 459 works from his prolific workshop, which was significant as the first to mass-produce prints in the southern Netherlands. Of the 57 plates that belong to this Life of Christ cycle, Passavant nos 6-62 (see Hollstein vol. XIII, p.124) the prayerbook contains 14-15, 17-36, 38-47, 49-59.
    On each verso is a title relevant to the facing image, followed by Ave Maria. These texts are taken from the devotion known as the Golden Rosary, rosarium aureum cited on f.45v, which achieved a wide circulation in printed books of hours and in the Hortulus animae (Chevalier, Repertorium, II, no 19951). Organised in five decades, each bead was linked to an event from the Infancy to the Passion of Christ. The practice of meditating sequentially on the life of Christ whilst repeating Hail Mary was traditionally ascribed to St Dominic, but the version that gained greatest popularity in the 15th century was that of the Carthusian, Dominic of Prussia (1384-1460) - who claimed 'to be the first to have composed a series of phrases on the life of Christ that were to be meditated on while reciting the Ave Maria'.

    When the present book was first compiled it must have had at least one more page at the beginning to carry the title and prayer appropriate to the Flight into Egypt. It is not clear how many of the eight prints by Master S covering the earlier narrative (Passavant nos 6-13) may have preceded the existing sequence. The text now opens Quem ad festum transiens..., the third meditation of the second decade, f.1v, for the finding of the Christ Child in the Temple, f.2; the final one, Orantibus rosarium aureum tue matris..., f.45v, appears opposite the last engraving, with the closing prayer, Sub tuum presidium confugimus..., and the explicit on its reverse (f.46v).

    Already in the 15th century engravings had been produced with book illustration in mind, and seem to have been particularly employed in monasteries and convents where there were many who could write but fewer who could produce miniatures. The writing of devotional texts was itself a meritorious act and an economical way of acquiring a desired work. The combination with manuscript elements also allowed for completely personalised compilations like the present lot, which appears to have been prompted by the engravings. Master S was following well established precedent in producing an extensive cycle of the life of Christ that could be used in many different ways. Not all the prints corresponded to the Golden Rosary, so that a different prayer had to be found to face the Dispersion of the Apostles, f.13; the following print of a Carthusian kneeling before the Virgin and Child in a rosary, where the decades are separated by the Five Wounds of Christ, is relevant to the book's content but had to be supplied with a salutation to the wound in Christ's right foot, its different source shown by the inclusion of a Pater noster as well as the expected Ave Maria. It is usual to think of illustration following text but, in this case, the engravings were acquired and texts then found to accompany them.

    In printing the series on vellum with such wide margins around the plate, Master S surely envisaged a bound volume as its likely destination. Apart from the enhancement of the images by the addition of text, a book provided a protective environment for the prints and their colouring and also a format where they could easily be handled and viewed. This small volume not only preserves an important series by the engraver who first published prints on a large scale in the southern Netherlands but also demonstrates how they were used and valued.

    The subjects of the engravings are as follows: f.1 The Flight into Egypt; f.2 Christ teaching; f.4 The Holy Family; f.5 The Baptism of Christ; f.6 The Temptation; f.7 The Wedding at Cana; f.8 Christ healing the possessed man; f.9 The Raising of Lazarus; f.10 Christ at the table of the Pharisee; f.11 The Transfiguration; f.12 Christ entering Jerusalem; f.13 The Dispersion of the Apostles; f.14 A Carthusian kneeling before the Virgin in a Rosary; f.15 The Last Supper; f.16 Christ washing the Apostles' feet; f.17 The Agony in the Garden; f.18. The Arrest of Christ; f.19 Christ before Annas; f.20 Christ buffeted; f.21 Christ before Pilate; f.22 Christ before Herod; f.23 The Crowning with Thorns; f.25 Ecce homo; f.26 Pilate washing his hands; f.27 The Carrying of the Cross; f.28 The Disrobing of Christ; f.29 The Nailing to the Cross; f.30 Christ on the Cross; f.31 Christ on the Cross between the two thieves; f.32 Crucifixion with the Virgin of Sorrows; f.33 Christ on the Cross commends the Virgin to St John; f.34 Christ on the Cross if offered the sponge; f.36 The Dying Christ on the Cross with the Virgin of Sorrows; f.37 the Piercing of Christ's side; f.38 Lamentation at the foot of the Cross; f.39 Entombment; f.40 Harrowing of Hell; f.41 Resurrection; f.42 Ascension; f.43 Pentecost; f.44 Christ and the Virgin surrounded by angels; f.45 The Last Judgment; f.46 The Coronation of the Virgin.

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