ANTIPHONAL OF ELISABETH VON GEMMINGEN, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT CHOIRBOOK ON VELLUM
555 x 370mm. 238 folios: 17, 2-288, 294, 302, 318, 321, gatherings numbered with roman numerals, eight lines of music of square notation on a four-line stave of red above text in black ink in a gothic bookhand, FOURTEEN LARGE HISTORIATED INITIALS, TWO LARGE FOLIATE INITIALS all with marginal sprays or borders with flower and leaf sprays and the coats of arms of the von Gemmingen and von Neuenstein families, WIDE BORDER MINIATURE, large calligraphic initials throughout with penwork flourishing in black and red, many incorporating heads or beasts (occasional slight cropping to borders, small pigment losses or abrasions, illuminated initial on f.97v water-damaged). Mid-16th-century panelled pigskin ruled and rolled in blind with figured metal corner-pieces and central bosses (slight scuffing and worming, two replacement straps and clasps).
A MAGNIFICENT MONUMENT OF GERMAN ILLUMINATION AND FEMALE PATRONAGE
PROVENANCE AND CONTENT:
This splendid choirbook contains chants for the Divine Office for feasts from the Sanctoral -- from the Visitation on 2 July (f.1) to St Katherine on 25 November (f.171) -- followed by the Common of Saints (ff.176-223v) and Hymnal (ff.224v-338). It was illuminated for Elisabeth of Gemmingen, who is shown kneeling before Saint Katherine in the border miniature of f.171. Elisabeth, named in the banderole above her head, is shown dressed in the habit of a Dominican. She was the daughter of Hans von Gemmingen and Brida von Neuenstein of Speyer, whose coats of arms are painted beside the lavishly illuminated initials throughout the manuscript: U. Frommberger-Weber, 'Spätgotische Buchmalerei in den Städten Speyer, Worms und Heidelberg (1440-1510). Ein Beitrag zur Malerei des nördlichen Oberrheingebietes im ausgehenden Mittelalter', Zeitschrift für die Geschichte des Oberrheins, 121 (1973), pp.35-145.
Elisabeth was received into the Dominican Order in 1486 in the convent of Sankt Maria Magdalena zu Hasenpfühl close to Speyer Cathedral. In 1504 she became prioress of the convent and this is perhaps the most likely date for her to have had the manuscript made. It seems likely to have been intended for the use of the sisters there. The rubric for the Feast for St Dominic names him as 'our patron' and the predominant presence of female saints, ten of the fourteen illustrated feasts, would fit with this use. Elisabeth is known to have presented a window and a Missal to her convent and this manuscript, another instance of her artistic patronage and benefaction, seems most likely to have been created for the same destination. It was clearly just one volume of a multi-volume series of choirbooks -- four other leaves with miniatures, now in the Suermondt-Ludwig Museum in Aachen, clearly came from a companion Antiphonal with Feasts from the Temporal: E.G. Grimm, Miniaturen, Handzeichnungen, Aquarelle (Katalog des Suermondt-Ludwig Museum, Aachen), 1977. Presumably the gatherings of a volume with Sanctoral feasts from December to June was written continuously with those of the present volume, which are numbered from xxviii-lviii. The division into two was made after the first leaf of the first gathering of this book.
Collection d'un amateur suisse, Mm.-Mensing et fils, Amsterdam 22 November 1929, lot 35.
The illumination is in three distinct styles. The first and most impressive, with the initials formed of sweeping broad shapes of highly burnished gold framing accomplished and lively figure groups in detailed settings, is the work of a professional artist who exemplifies the style of manuscript illumination in Swabia around 1500. He was responsible for nine of the initials. These are sometimes accompanied by flamboyant and colourful borders with flowers and leaves that curl across the margins of the page, sometimes containing birds and figures as well as the coats of arms of the patron's parents: in their placement and naturalism these borders recall the Breviary sometimes attributed to Wolfgang Breuer (BL, Egerton 1146), an artist in the circle of the Housebook Master. The proportions and animation of the figures and evident influence of southern Netherlandish painting upon the illuminator of the present Antiphonal could also be seen as a continuation of the Housebook Master's influence. The swirling initial terminals, flower sprays and the whimsical inclusions of the calligraphic initials all add to the rich visual appeal of the volume.
Although the majority of the decoration and illustration belongs to this original campaign, a few of the large initials were left incomplete and seven illustrated and painted initials are less polished or rich in style and materials: they are characteristic of nuns' work, perhaps in this instance sisters of the community in which the Antiphonal was used. It is a fascinating combination.
This is an exceptional survival that is of both historic and artistic importance and testifies to the discrimination, devotion and generosity of an individual woman of the late Middle Ages, Elisabeth von Gemmingen.
The subjects of the initials are as follows:
f.12 Noli me tangere
f.23v Anna Selbdritt (nun's work)
f.47v St Dominic (nun's work, on earlier drawing?)
f.69 Coronation of the Virgin with Eve at one side (nun's work, on earlier drawing?)
f.80v St Augustine
f.97v Virgin and Child clothed in the sun (damaged)
f.114 St Michael weighing souls (nun's work)
f.121v Assumption of St Ursula and Ursula and her virgin companions in a boat
f.142 St Martin dividing his cloak (nun's work, on earlier drawing?)
f.152 St Elizabeth of Thuringia offering food to a child
f.166 Sts Cecilia and Valerius receiving chaplets from the angel
f.171 Trial of St Katherine (initial); a landscape with Elizabeth von Gemmingen kneeling before St Katherine on the left and St Katherine kneeling in prayer as the angel destroys the wheel
f.233v Martyrdom of St Katherine
The two foliate initials on f.33 and 131v also look to be following earlier professional drawing.