BOOK OF HOURS, use of Rome, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[Lombardy, probably Milan, mid-15th-century]
125 x 88mm. 172 leaves, including two final ruled blanks: 1-128, 134, 15-228, apparently COMPLETE but without a Calendar, several flyleaves excised, horizontal catchwords in centre of lower margin of final versos of most gatherings, signature marks in lower outer corner of rectos in first halves of gatherings, some repeated in red ink, 13 lines written in a round gothic bookhand in black ink between two verticals and 14 horizontals ruled in plummet, rubrics in red, one- and two-line initials of burnished gold on divided grounds of blue and red with white decoration, most two-line initials with accompanying flowersprays in gold and colour, TWENTY-ONE LARGE ILLUMINATED INITIALS and NINETEEN FULL-PAGE MINIATURES above BAS-DE-PAGES WITH ANIMALS on verdant hillocks, most with accompanying birds, with full borders of burnished gold bars interspersed with flowerheads, burnished gold leaves and disks on hairline tendrils, the border on the first folio also inhabited by pairs of tiny birds (occasional slight offsetting of gold from initials onto facing miniatures, some marginal spotting). 17th-century Italian olive/brown morocco gilt, the covers panelled in gilt with flowerhead cornerpieces, the upper cover with central Crucifixion, the lower panel with Virgin and Child, gilt edges (straps lacking, extremities rubbed, wormed at foot of spine). Morocco-backed cloth box.
1. The manuscript probably dates shortly after 1450, the year of the canonisation of Benardino of Siena who is included in the Litany. The style of illumination indicates an origin in Lombardy, most likely in Milan. Although a shield was drawn in the bas-de-page of the opening page to receive the coat of arms of the original owner it was not completed.
2. The prayer for a male supplicant, 'famulo tuo Ma...', on f.170v was added in a late 15th-century Italian hand.
3. Three superimposed inventory labels inside upper cover, the topmost reading '351 mne'.
4. G. Pallotty, 19th-century inscription in purple ink on final blank endleaf. This is, presumably, the Giuseppe Pallotti, antiquary of Florence, who had the Hours of Prigent de Coëtivy (now Dublin, Chester Beatty Lib. W. 82) for sale in 1897: L. Delisle, 'Les Heures de l'amiral Prigent de Coëtivy', Bibliothèque de l'école des chartes, lxi, 1900, pp.186-200.
5. William Waldorf Astor (1848-1919), first Viscount Astor (see lots 30 and 48); on deposit at the Bodleian Library from 1966 (A.C. de la Mare, 'Italian Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library', in La miniatura italiana tra gotico e rinascimento, ed. E. Sesti, 1985, vol.i, p.149, comparing the illumination to a manuscript of 1461 in Milan (Bibl. Trivulziana, Ms 1329),; sold in the Astor sale at Sotheby's, 21 June 1988, lot 60. Astor Ms A.7 (label on front endleaf).
Office of the Virgin, use of Rome ff.1-74v: matins f.1v, lauds f.14v, terce f.33, sext f.37, none f.41, vespers f.45v, compline f.52, and variants f.57; Penitential Psalms and Litany ff.75v-100; Office of the Dead ff.101v-140v; Hours of the Cross ff.141v-152; Hours of the Holy Spirit ff.153-158; Mass of the Virgin ff.159-170; added prayer to St John the Baptist f.170v.
The origins of the luxury book trade in Milan lay in manuscripts made for members of the Visconti court. Although the present, enchanting manuscript dates at least half a century later, it presents the same stylistic qualities and features that became characteristic of Milanese illumination early on: qualities that charm and confer immediate appeal. The miniatures are peopled by compact, little doll-like figures in fluid curving drapery set against busy backgrounds with gold-lit hills and rocks, distant trees or brightly coloured architecture. Colour is dominated by rich, strong shades of crimson, blue and green with occasional touches of scarlet, salmon and grey: palette, figure-style and setting are all rendered for decorative effect rather than for realism. Naturalism is restricted to the birds and animals in the bas-de-pages united to the religious narratives by a surround of golden bars and leaves and coloured flowerheads: the combination makes for a delightful whole.
Miniatures, borders and bas-de-pages are the work of an illuminator whose style was obviously formed in the orbit of the favourite artists of Filippo Maria, the last Visconti duke of Milan (d.1447). The intense rich palette and the sombre backgrounds recall Belbello da Pavia but other details show the influence of the anonymous illuminator, sometime collaborator of Belbello, known as the Master of the Vitae Imperatorum. Above all it is with the pages by the Imperatorum Master in the Breviary (Chambéry, Bibl. Ms 4) made for the duke's wife, Marie of Savoy, that the closest comparisons can be made: the golden bar studded with single flowers that frame the miniatures in this Hours are like those on the opening folio of the Breviary, and lively little birds in pale shades of pink and blue prance or dart around the borders of both manuscripts. It is, however, the little animals in the bas-de-pages of the Hours that demonstrate the direct contact that their illuminator had with the workshop of the Imperatorum Master. They are clearly drawn from the same patterns that served for identical beasts in the Breviary and other of the Master's works, such as the Pizolpasso Pontifical in Cambridge (Fitzwilliam Museum, Ms 28). It is probable that this illuminator spent some time or, maybe, even trained in the workshop of the Master.
The subjects of the miniatures and bas-de-pages are as follows:
f.1 Annunciation, set against green buildings, the Virgin seated before an elaborate shell-niche; below, a male and female making music, wearing only cloaks, seated beneath trees flanking a blank heraldic shield
f.14 Visitation; a peacock in a landscape below
f.27v Nativity; a hare leaping
f.32v Presentation in the Temple; a lion cub
f.36v Adoration of the Magi; a bear
f.40v Flight into Egypt; a stag lying down in walled enclosure
f.45 Christ Child among the Doctors; a rabbit in wooded landscape
f.51v Virgin and Joseph with Christ Child outside the temple; a rabbit in a fenced enclosure
f.75 David playing the harp before distant hilly landscape; a dog playing in a fenced enclosure
f.101 Harrowing of Hell; a hunting dog with a rabbit in its mouth
f.141 Betrayal; a ?squirrel in a fenced enclosure, a bird in ink outline only
f.143v Christ before Pilate; a stag in a walled garden
f.145 Mocking of Christ; a rabbit beneath a tree
f.146v Flagellation; a dog following a partridge
f.148 Crucifixion; a goat
f.149v Pietà; a fox
f.151 Tomb of Christ; a chained monkey
f.152v Pentecost; a dog lying beneath a tree
f.158v Virgin and Child enthroned in a crimson shell-niche; a leopard leaping.