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Circle of Willem Vrelant and the St Hadrian Master

Book of Hours, use of Rome, in Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Bruges, third quarter 15th century].

Circle of Willem Vrelant and the St Hadrian Master
Book of Hours, use of Rome, in Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Bruges, third quarter 15th century].
An exquisite Hours with exceptional provenance, mentioned in numerous major publications on Flemish illumination, among which the famous Burlington Fine Arts Club exhibition catalogue of 1908. Historically attributed to the workshop of Willem Vrelant, several miniatures are identifiable as the work of the St Hadrian Master, one of Vrelants chief associates.

88 x 64 mm. 196 leaves, modern foliation, 15 lines in a fine rotunda, written space: 50 x 35 mm, illuminated initials throughout, 11 small miniatures and 15 full-page miniatures within full borders, facing folios with matching borders, (slight rubbing to miniatures on ff.26v and 32v, offsetting to f.271, tiny tear in the border of f.21 and a small hole with loss of a few letters, some prayers on ff.27-28, 30 and 187 censored in red, tiny wormholes on first and final leaves, slightly trimmed, else with wide margins and in fine condition). Old pink velvet binding, spine with 4 raised bands (a little rubbed). Slipcase.

Provenance: (1) The heading and around half of the text of the Prayers to the Virgin are obliterated, as well as a part of the Obsecro te, evidence of later censorship. The invocations of the Saints at the end of the manuscript suggest that the person commissioning it could have been close to the Franciscans. Placing female saints before male saints could also indicate that the first owner was a woman. Neither the Calendar nor the Litany give any indication on how to place this manuscript, although the miniatures and borders are in the Bruges style. The use of gothica rotunda, imitating Italian script, was ‘quite the fashion for books of hours in Ghent and Bruges’ (Gumbert), and may have indicated that the manuscript was made for export to the Italian market. (2) The manuscript is said to have belonged to the family of Andrea Doria (1466-1560), of Genoa, and dispersed after the Napoleonic invasion of northern Italy (pencilled note in English). (3) Johann Georg Pfister (1799-1883), of Augsburg, numismatist, who died in London (his signature inside the upper cover), purchased in 1827. (4) Sir John Murray (1851-1928), of the celebrated British publishing dynasty, his by 1908 (and probably much earlier). (5) By descent to his son, Sir John Murray (1884-1967): his sale, Sotheby's, 10 June 1963, lot 142, to Warden. (6) Christie's, 11 July 1974, lot 17, to the present owner.

Contents: Calendar; Hours of the Cross; Hours of the Holy Ghost; Prayers to the Virgin, Hours of the Virgin, use of Rome; Office of the Virgin for Advent; Penitential Psalms and Litany; Office of the Dead; Psalter of St. Jerome; Invocations of Saints; Prayers of the Passion.

Illumination: The extensive illumination is in a style derived from Willem Vrelant, one of the leading illuminators in Bruges from at least 1454 until his death in 1481. Several of the miniatures share his narrative verve but the figures are stiffer and more angular, with larger heads, and there is a greater reliance on line to detail and to reinforce contours. These are all characteristics of an identified associate or assistant of Vrelant who collaborated on the second volume of the Chroniques de Hainaut completed in 1468 for Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (see B. Bousmanne, Item a Guillaume Wyelant aussi enlumineur, exh. cat. Brussels, KBR, 1997, esp. pp.55-60 and ills. 9-11). He is known either as the Master of the Vraie chronique descoce, from a chronicle of Scotland with a colophon of 1464 which was complete when inventoried after the death of Philip the Good in 1467 (Brussels, KBR, MS 9469-70), or as the St Hadrian Master, named from the miniature of that saint in a Golden Legend, divided between Mâcon (Bibl. Mun. MS 3) and New York (Pieront Morgan Library, M.672-M.675): see J. Caswell, 'Two manuscripts from the Chroniques II Workshop, Chroniques de Hainaut, volume II and the Morgan-Mâcon Golden Legend', Revue belge d'archéologie et d'histoire de l'art, 62, 1993, pp.17-45.

The miniatures depicting the Massacre of the Innocents and the Presentation in the Temple are especially close to f.69v in the Morgan manuscript. The present manuscript was exhibited in London at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in 1908 and in Antwerp at the ‘Exposition internationale, coloniale, maritime et d'art flamand’ in 1930, and was specifically included in the following bibliography: S. Cockerell, Exhibition of Illuminated Manuscripts, London, Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1908, no 230; F. Winkler, Die flämische Buchmalerei des XV. Und XVI. Jahrhunderts, Leipzig, 1925, pp.71 and 181; V. Leroquais, Le bréviaire de Philippe le Bon, Paris-Brussels, 1929, p. 161, no 14, pl. 17; Exposition international coloniale, maritime et d'art flamand, Antwerp, 1930, IV, no 22; G. Dogaer, Flemish Miniature Painting in the 15th and 16th centuries, 1987, pp.105 and 187.

The subjects of the full-page miniatures are as follows: Crucifixion, Pentecost, Education of Jesus, Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Annunciation to the Shepherds, Adoration of the Magi, Presentation in the Temple, Massacre of the Innocents, Flight into Egypt, Coronation of the Virgin, David in prayer, Funeral, St. Jerome in prayer in front of Jesus on the Cross. The subjects of the smaller miniatures are as follows: Pieta, Mary Magdalene, Catherine of Alexandria, Barbara, Clare, Catherine of Siena, Francis of Assisi, Bernardino of Siena, Anthony of Padua, Sebastian and the instruments of the Passion.

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Eugenio Donadoni Senior Specialist, Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts
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