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    Sale 7590

    Valuable Manuscripts and Printed Books

    4 June 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 25

    PENTECOST, in an initial D on a leaf from an ILLUMINATED CHOIRBOOK ON VELLUM

    Price Realised  


    PENTECOST, in an initial D on a leaf from an ILLUMINATED CHOIRBOOK ON VELLUM

    [?southern Italy, mid-13th century]
    480 x 350mm (visible area of leaf), 185 x 205mm (body of initial). The initial with staves of orange and crimson set against a ground divided into fields of blue or pink with scrolling white decoration overall, in the bowl of the D twelve seated Apostles, St Peter in the centre holding a book, tower-like footstools in the foreground and red tongues descending toward them from a blue canopy above; on the verso eight lines of music of square notation on a four-line stave of red above eight lines written in black ink, rubrics in red, text justification: 390 x 280mm (some wear to surface of initial, original text and music erased and replaced, ink erosion to bottom line of text and losses of vellum at leaf edges, especially at bottom right, vellum repairs on verso, between two sheets of glass). Framed.

    This initial opens the antiphon 'Dum complerentur dies pentecostes', the first antiphon for lauds on Pentecost Sunday, although the extensive areas of modification may indicate that it was not originally intended for that office. Some change of liturgical practice must have necessitated the remodelling of text and music.

    This is a striking and intriguing initial where figures strongly reminiscent of a classical relief are set against a wildly abstract-patterned background. The restricted palette and dramatic classicisation of the drapery and heads suggest a date no later than the middle of the thirteenth century -- notably early for a choirbook with square notation.

    Notwithstanding the difference in colour scheme, the closest stylistic analogies can be made with the illumination of what must once have been one of the most individual and captivating of medieval manuscripts, the Conradin Bible (Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery, Ms 152 and dispersed initials). The artists of both work with the same aim of recreating antique figures -- albeit bulkier and more static in the Pentecost -- and both provide blocked-out backgrounds of juxtaposed colours. Even the white pen-work decoration over the surface of the backgrounds employs the same vocabulary: scrolling lines with nodal dots that terminate in cross-hatched disks and are interspersed with spoked circles and circles surrounded by dots. A. Daneu Lattanzi, Lineamenti di storia della miniatura in Sicilia, 1966, figs 51-54 and pp.58-61. It seems likely that this Pentecost initial was painted by an artist formed in a similar milieu to the Master of the Conradin Bible. But the location is an unresolved question and his origins have been sought in southern Italy, Pisa, the Veneto and Rome: G. Valagussa, 'Maestro della Bibbia di Corradino', in Dizionario biografico dei miniatori italiani, ed. M. Bollati, 2004, pp.518-520.

    Whatever difficulty may be involved in categorising this Pentecost cannot detract from its remarkable quality; a quality recognised by the religious house who owned it and, centuries after it was made, preserved it and maintained its relevance by remodelling text and music.

    Purchased at the Alfred Brod Gallery, London 28 December 1965.

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    Pre-Lot Text


    Denys Sutton (1917-1991), art critic and art historian, was a man of wide knowledge and of many interests. His career started with service in the Foreign Office but by the mid-1940s he had already published his first books, an anthology, Watteau's 'Les charmes de la vie', and a biography of Matisse, and communication on the arts was to be the area that he occupied for the rest of his life. In 1948 he became fine arts specialist for UNESCO, published Picasso, Blue and Pink Periods, and then spent a year as a visiting lecturer at Yale, publishing French Drawings of the 18th century and American Painting, and in the following year, 1950, Flemish Painting. The breadth of his interests was already established. He went on to combine working in journalism -- as art critic for Country Life and the Financial Times and as salesroom correspondent for the Daily Telegraph -- with more academic publications -- a Catalogue of the French, Spanish and German Schools in the Fitzwilliam Museum, with J.W. Goodison - and with biographies of Toulouse-Lautrec, Titian and Whistler.

    These achievements were evidence of the wide-ranging knowledge and interest which, united with an attention to detail, perfectly equipped him for his 1962 appointment as editor of the arts magazine Apollo, the job that occupied him for the next twenty years. He revolutionised the journal giving it a gloss, personality and position that it had previously lacked and changing its focus to encompass collecting, contemporary issues and museums. As well as writing for Apollo himself -- sometimes whole issues -- he produced many further books and organised twenty or so exhibitions, both in this country and abroad. His final book, Degas: Man and Work, was published in 1986.

    His concern with the history of taste and collecting -- most appositely shown in the context of the present sale by Christie's since the War 1944-1958: An Essay on Taste, Patronage and Collecting (1959) -- was no distant intellectual concern, and he put together an art collection that mirrored the range of interest manifest in his publications. The self-awareness that he brought to his purchasing was reflected in the introductory essay to a small but memorable exhibition held at Agnew's in 1965, Art Historians and Critics as Collectors. It was this knowledgeable discernment that informed Denys Sutton's selection of manuscript illuminations for inclusion in his collection. Ranging in date from the middle of the 13th century to the middle of the 16th century, the initials and miniatures are united by their high quality and visual appeal. Most of them were purchased in the early 1960s and Christie's is delighted to be able to make them once again available to a wider audience and discriminating collectors.