DAVID IN PENITENCE, in an initial A, cutting from a choirbook, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
252 x 235mm. The initial staves made up of a baluster, foliage and a scaley dragon are set against a ground of burnished gold and contain an extensive landscape with the kneeling figure of David playing a viol and raising his eyes to the golden rays emanating from the right, the outer border is of acanthus sprays set against a purple-hatched ground (laid down, no verso visible, initial terminals and border cropped at right and bottom, vertical slit from right cheek into beard of David, a few wormholes in top border and a small hole in dragon's leg, and others on his side and in the adjacent gold surround, small light and brown splashes on the right of the scene, small pigment losses and more extensive losses from the burnished gold ground, likely purple hatching to parchment later).
This initial A probably came from a Gradual where it opened the introit, 'Ad te levavi', for the 1st Sunday in Advent.
The splendid initial is the work of the Veronese illuminator Girolamo Dai Libri (1474-1555). Girolamo, the most renowned of an illustrious family of illuminators, had a long and productive career. From the begining of the 16th century he undertook working on a monumental scale producing altarpieces as well as manuscripts for churches in and around Verona, but it was the series of choirbooks he illuminated that were particularly singled out for praise by Vasari in his Life of the artist. The delicate sophistication of modelling of flesh and drapery and the addition of orange to the pinks, blues and greens of the initial and border forms show the present initial to belong to the end of his career.
The church of the great Benedictine Abbey of Polirone was rebuilt by Giulio Romano and consecrated in 1547. By 1552 the furnishing of the choir was complete with richly carved choirstalls and the installation of an organ, and attention turned to the provision of a fittingly splendid series of choirbooks. Five volumes survive, two of them dated by the scribe 1552 and 1554. Everything about these books announces the importance of the commission: their size, the quality of the materials and the quantity of illumination. Three of the surviving volumes contain numerous initials by Girolamo, seven of them historiated. It is among these that the present initial of David belongs. The colours, precise border forms, lively furled leaves and the inclusion of fruit and flower sprays are exactly those found in the Psalter-Hymnal and Psalter from the Abbey and now in Mantua (Arch. Stor. Diocesano, cod. S1, 6T and 3): G. Castiglione, Miniatura veronese del Rinascimento, 1986, pp.275-276. The composition within the initial of the same subject in the Psalter (cod.3, f.1) is virtually identical to this David, and it is highly probable that the Gradual that was the parent manuscript of our initial was part of the Polirone series. Girolamo, an aged but celebrated man, did not live to complete the Abbey choirbooks, but this initial shows that his advanced years had in no way brought about a diminution of his skill and vision.