CHRIST IN MAJESTY, historiated initial 'A' on a bifolium from an Antiphonal, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[Bohemia, Prague, c.1405]
565 x 400m (the leaf); 170 x 135mm (the initial). Full-page borders of pastel-coloured acanthus contain birds, a phoenix, a black bear and an archer, with an apostle and St Benedict? above the initial, to the left a kneeling abbot in a Benedictine habit holds a crozier; all leaves of the bifolium with rubrics in red, seven lines written in black ink in a gothic bookhand between music of square notation on a four-line red stave, one large initial outlined in red and yellow with foliate penwork, four other large initials (some marginal soiling, light wear affecting the archer in the lower margin, the upper part of the kneeling abbot repainted).
The initial opens the responsory for the first Sunday of Advent, 'Aspiciens a longe ecce video dei potentiam'.
A MASTERPIECE OF INTERNATIONAL GOTHIC PAINTING -- THE PRINCIPAL AND FINEST LEAF OF THE SEITENSTETTEN ANTIPHONAL.
This bifolium comes from a magnificent Antiphonal made for an unidentified Benedictine monastery. The manuscript had already left Bohemia during the 15th century, perhaps during the Hussite wars, and an 1886 description of the intact book records a poem inside the front cover telling of its transfer in 1504 from the Benedictines of St Peter in Salzburg to the Cistercians of Raitenhaslach in Bavaria. By the 19th century it was in Austria once more, owned by the Benedictines of Seitenstetten Abbey. After World War I the manuscript was sold to a dealer who dismembered it and sold the illuminated leaves separately. Sixteen of these have been identified, including thirteen sold by Maggs Bros in 1928, the present leaf among them (cat.512, no 289). Ten of the extant leaves, all from major public collections, were included in an exhibition in New York in 2005: Prague: the Crown of Bohemia 1347-1437, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sept 2005-Jan 2006, cat. eds B. Drake Boehm and J. Fajt, no 116, pp.269-274 (see for reconstruction of the manuscript and bibliography). The location of the other five surviving leaves (one had been destroyed in World War II), including the present bifolium, was at that time unknown.
Carrying the opening of the first feast of the Antiphonal, this page is illuminated more extensively and more splendidly than any other and it is certainly the work of the principal illuminator. The exquisite monochrome figures in the initial staves and the full-page border inhabited with birds, beasts and figures are unique features. This artist is not precisely identifiable but he was clearly within the circle and influence of the illuminators responsible for two of the greatest manuscripts produced for the court of Wenceslas IV: the Master of the Golden Bull (Vienna, ÖNB Cod.sel.388) and the Master of the Bible of Konrad of Vechta (Antwerp, Museum Plantin-Moretus, M 15.1-15.2). This leaf can be placed alongside them as being one of the highest achievements of Bohemian court illumination and thus of European art of around 1400.