SAINT MARGARET, a leaf from the Hours of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[Bruges, probably 1522-23]
170 x 120mm visible area, 133 x 84mm miniature. Within a dark, run-down vaulted room, the saint steps delicately from the back of the expiring dragon, she holds a cross in one hand and makes a gesture of blessing with the other, the dove of the Holy Spirit hovers above her head, the surrounding border of ochre washed or speckled with liquid gold is scattered with daisies -- marguerites -- and insects, and in the corner is a group with an exotic dark-skinned woman and her two children, the parchment backing with the monogrammatic device of Frederick, fourth marquess of Londonderry (laid down and backed, with a paper surround to the edge of the outer fillet of the border, between two sheets of glass). Framed.
This is one of the full-page miniatures painted by Simon Bening for the Hours of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg (1490-1545), Archbishop and Elector of Mainz and Primate of Germany. This extraordinarily lavish manuscript, stripped of all its full-page miniatures at some date before the mid-19th century, was lot 36 at Sotheby's, 19 June 2001. This miniature of St Margaret would originally have been inserted as a verso to face the suffrage to St Margaret on f.87 of the second volume.
A set of the dispersed leaves with miniatures, including the present lot, were acquired by Frederick, fourth marquess of Londonderry in Rome in 1856. Five of these miniatures were owned by the Reverend E.S. Dewick by the early 20th century and were acquired in 1918 by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (ms 294a-e). Eleven others, including the present leaf were sold at Christie's in 1929 to the London art dealer A. Horace Buttery, who sold them to various collectors between 1929 and 1963. In 1945 the present leaf was one of six that were bought by H.M. Calmann of London and it was lot 41b at Sotheby's on 11 July 1960. It was mistakenly described as in a private collection in Germany in Illuminations in the Robert Lehman Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1997, p.99, where the history and location of all the identified surviving leaves are described.
Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg, characterised as 'a true Renaissance prince in his love of art, learning and luxury', was the subject of the recent exhibition at Halle, involving no less than four venues, see Kardinal Albrecht von Brandenburg, Renaissancefürst und Mäzen, Bd I, Katalog, T. Schauerte ed., Bd II Essays, A. Tacke ed., 2006. The marriage of his patronage to the ability of Simon Bening in his great book of hours fully demonstrates the scale of the Cardinal's discernment and ambition. He clearly appreciated the result, since he went on to commission a Passion Prayerbook from Bening, now in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Ms Ludwig IX 19). In his lifetime Bening was described as 'the greatest master in the art of illumination in all of Europe' and he has retained that position among modern critics: 'the art of no other Flemish illuminator so fully epitomises the triumph of Flemish manuscript painting ..... and its enduring eminence as a court art'(T. Kren in Illuminating the Renaissance, T. Kren and S. McKendrick, 2003, p.446).
It is a pleasing detail that responding to the saint's role as protectress of women in childbirth, a mother safely delivered of two young children is included in the border among the daisies that carry Margaret's name. The fact that the family are dressed exotically and shown as dark-skinned may be a reference to St Margaret's origin in Antioch.