PONTIFICAL, in Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Italy, probably Ferrara, c.1460]
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PONTIFICAL, in Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Italy, probably Ferrara, c.1460]

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PONTIFICAL, in Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Italy, probably Ferrara, c.1460]

A finely produced manual for the use of a Bishop officiating at Masses, Ordinations, Confirmations and Blessings. The refined, detailed and profuse illumination of the opening folio is by an artist who worked for the Este court in Ferrara at the period of Borso d’Este’s Bible – one of the great masterpieces of Renaissance illumination.

235 x 174mm. 123ff., 15th-century foliation 1-120 starting on fourth folio: 14, 2-1210, 139(of 10, final leaf a cancelled blank), complete, two columns of 27 lines in a gothic bookhand in black ink rubrics in red, written space 145 x 112mm. Historiated initial and full-page border with roundels of Sts Peter and Paul and corner- and centre-pieces with St Andrew, animals and birds. One- to three-line initials of gold on blue, green and red grounds with purple flourishing alternating with blue initials with red flourishing throughout (ink fading on some leaves, oxidization of lead white and a few tiny pigment losses on opening folio, darkening of upper outer corner of final four leaves and final blank verso). 19th-century half-calf (minor scuffing of edges).

Provenance: (1) Illuminated, likely in Ferrara, for the bishop whose coat of arms topped by a mitre were included in the lower border of the opening folio. (2) A member of the Rota family, while the mitre is part of the original border the present coat of arms is a later overpainting. (3) Rev. Charles Girdlestone (1797-1881), his bookplate as a fellow at Balliol College inside front cover: Girdlestone was a biblical commentator and from 1843 one of the earliest campaigners for the improvement of the living conditions of the poor. (4) P. Elmsley’s sale, note inside front endpaper. (5) M.H. Bloxam, by whom given to Rugby School Library; inscription dated 30 August 1837 on 2nd flyleaf.

Content: List of contents, with folio numbers added in a 15th-century hand, ff.i-ii; Orders of service, opening with the Confirmation of Boys and ending with Absolution in the Office of the Dead ff.iii verso-117; Litanies (two) ff.117v-119v; prayers for the dead added in a 15th-century hand on a folio originally left blank f.120.

Illumination: The multiple inclusions in the opening border – finch, monkey, duck, deer, swag-holding putti, coloured column and flower forms are all recognizably from the repertoire of the illuminators of the Bible of Borso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara and it seems likely that the illuminator was part of the team that brought its 1200 illuminated pages to completion. The Bible was produced in Ferrara between 1455 and 1461. Two of the principal artists responsible for its illustration and decoration were Taddeo Crivelli and Giorgio d’Alemagna, whose style the present manuscript most closely resembles. It is likely to have been produced in that city at around the same date and by a close associate of these artists. It is a work of great elegance and svelte finish.
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