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SAINT PAUL PREACHING, in an initial P on the verso of a half-leaf from a Bible, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price plus bu… Read more The Bernard H. Breslauer Collection of Manuscript Illuminations The regular visitor to Bernard Breslauer's Fifth-Avenue apartment always looks forward to the moment of stepping into the square entrance-hall. Nowhere else can he submit so completely to the intimacy of medieval and renaissance painting. His eyes are riveted on miniatures by Jean Bourdichon, Simon Bening or Giovanni Pietro Birago. He does well to listen to any commentary his host might provide, because Dr Breslauer is a true connoisseur of illuminated manuscript leaves. The bibliophile may then cross into the sitting room, where the stunning collection of association copies of historical bibliography -- many printed on vellum -- is shelved, or into the library proper, which overlooks the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But the greatest enthusiasts of illumination are invited to turn from the hall into the long corridor whose walls are covered by framed manuscript leaves from large choirbooks. It is mostly from this group that the selection for the present sale has been made. The quality and interest of these pictures and their border decorations are so uniformly high that I will only single out the Antiphonal miniature by Niccolò da Bologna, the city's most famous illuminator in the second half of the 14th century; as the first leaf purchased by Dr Breslauer -- at auction in 1966 -- it became a cornerstone of his private collection. The manuscript to which it belonged was signed by Niccolò, but the characteristic vigour of the crowded scene in the large initial A showing Three Marys at the Tomb would anyhow leave no doubt about the attribution. As one of the leading antiquarian booksellers in the world, like his father Martin before him, Dr Breslauer has known most of the great manuscript experts and amateurs of the 20th century. Particularly his close friendships with the collector Wilfred Merton and the keeper of manuscripts at the British Museum, Eric Millar, inspired his taste in book illumination. Conversations with Sir Sydney Cockerell and Sir John Pope-Hennessy were other influences. The Bernard H. Breslauer Collection of Manuscript Illuminations was made available to a wide and appreciative audience in a splendid exhibition held at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York from December 1992 to April 1993. The accompanying scholarly catalogue ensured that the collection receives enduring international recognition. In their introduction the authors, William Voelkle and Roger Wieck, trace the collecting of single illuminated manuscript leaves back to the mid-15th century (Petrus Christus's Portrait of a Young Man in the National Gallery not only shows the sitter holding a manuscript, but behind him framed and tacked to the wall is a prayer to the Face of Christ with a miniature of Veronica's Veil). The secularization of religious houses before, during and after the French Revolution brought masses of illuminated choirbooks onto the market. Many of them were broken up by art dealers and collectors. On 26 May 1825 Christie's organized the first auction sale entirely devoted to single leaves. The consignor was the abbot-turned-dealer, Luigi Celotti, and the cataloguer William Young Ottley, keeper of prints at the British Museum. Few will disagree that the earliest history of painting is largely to be found in illuminated manuscripts. It is no less true that medieval painting in the most original condition is also found in manuscripts. The pride taken in illumination is of course best expressed by Dante when the Poet asks the Painter weighted down in Purgatory: O, dissi lui, no se tu Oderisi L'honor d'Agubbio, et l'honor di quell'arte Ch'alluminar è chiamata in Parisi ? Paris, 23 October 2002 Felix de Marez Oyens Photographs courtesy of the Pierpont Morgan Library
SAINT PAUL PREACHING, in an initial P on the verso of a half-leaf from a Bible, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM

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SAINT PAUL PREACHING, in an initial P on the verso of a half-leaf from a Bible, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM

[Romagna, c.1270]
460 x 163mm. St Paul in three-quarter length, gesturing to indicate speech, in an attenuated letter P with knotted and cusped staves terminating in acanthus leaves on a blue ground; whole leaf of two columns of 41 lines written in brown ink in a gothic bookhand; rubric in large red display script, letters of first two lines of text and one-line initials touched red, two-line initials of red, four-line illuminated initial (some fading to ink and pink, small smudge to red letters beside initial and bottom of Paul's robe, small pen erosion affecting 2 letters only at bottom of text). Framed.

The initial opens the First Epistle of Paul to Timothy Paulus christi ihesu secundum imperium dei salvatoris, and is on the outer half of a leaf from a large-format Bible. This form originally evolved for the opulent presentation volumes that were at the heart of a church or monastery library but, by the end of the 12th century, monumental Bibles were being made for reading aloud to the monks during meals: they have consequently become known as 'refectory Bibles'. The revival of demand for lectern Bibles in the 15th century may have been the stimulus that encouraged an opportunistic Gutenberg to undertake mechanical mass-production: C. de Hamel, The Book. A History of the Bible, 2001, pp.64-81 and 190-196.

By the time that this leaf with St Paul was written the prevalent type of Bible -- which was being made in large numbers -- was the small-format single-volume Bible that was developed in Paris and set the pattern that is followed to this day. These portable Bibles mostly conformed to a standard arrangement. The Bible from which this leaf came served a different function and followed an older organisation: the tituli on the recto of the leaf show that Timothy's Epistle was divided into thirty chapters rather than the six that has been standard since the 13th century.

The restrained palette and the slender figures clothed in softly falling drapery are typical of Bolognese illumination known as the Academic or First Style. The broad-browed figures with their long-fingered loose gestures and deep-set eyes are analagous to those of a Gradual from the first series of choirbooks made for the Cathedral of Imola in the 1270s (now Museo Diocesano, Ms corale III): Corali miniati di Faenza, Bagnacavallo e Cotignola, ed. F. Lollini, 2000, tav.X. The present leaf, like that Gradual, can be attributed to a follower of the Master of Bagnocavallo, the illuminator of a series of choirbooks which probably came from the Franciscan convent in Bagnocavallo and are now in the Biblioteca Comunale Taroni there. The Master also provided some of the illumination for another refectory Bible, in four volumes, and datable around 1270. (Cesena, Biblioteca Malatestiana, Ms D.XXI.1).

PROVENANCE:
Purchased from Laurence Witten 1979. Voelkle and Wieck, no 56.

RELATED LEAVES:
Les Enluminures, 16, no 16; Milan, Longari collection; formerly Milan, Mondari collection.
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