DAVID THE PSALMIST, in an initial L, on a leaf from an ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM [Florence/Fiesole, c.1461]
518 x 397mm (leaf), 115 x 120mm (body of initial). Within an initial of green, blue and pink foliage set against a golden ground the Psalmist holds up his scroll with the incipit 'Legem pone michi Domine', the initial terminals extend to become foliate borders the height of the page with tendrils and leaves interspersed with fruit and gold disks and curling to accommodate two birds and a rabbit, one line of music of square notation on a four-line red stave, and ten lines written in a gothic bookhand in black ink, two large initials with divided staves and surround and infill with penwork patterning in red and green, on the verso twelve lines of text and four penwork initials alternately red and blue with decoration of the other colour (some abrasion to surface, especially affecting the lower left corner of the initial, bottom of leaf creased and darkened and with two slits and a few wormholes). Framed.
This initial opened the section of Psalm 118 to be said at terce on Sunday, Legem pone mihi domine viam iustificationum tuarum (Set before me for a law the way of thy justifications Oh Lord), in a Ferial Psalter and Hymnal.
The svelte execution and characteristic large hooded eyes show this initial and border to be a fine example of the work of Ser Ricciardo di Nanni, a priest who lived at Castelfiorentino from around 1430 to 1480 and whose work as an illuminator is documented from 1449. He was particularly favoured for the illustration of classical texts by Piero and Giovanni de' Medici. But it is a commission undertaken under the patronage of their father Cosimo de' Medici that has greater significance for the present leaf. From February 1461 (n.s.) to April 1462 payments record Ricciardo's work, with two assistants, on choirbooks for the Badia -- the Augustinian Abbey -- of Fiesole. The payments specify that his work included illumination in Antiphonals, and of a Psalter: E. Landi, 'I corali medicei della Badia Fiesolana. I: I documenti; II: Le miniature de Francesco d'Antonio e di Ricciardo Nanni,' Prospettiva, VIII and X, 1977, 7-17; 31-39. Four of these choirbooks are now in the Archivio del Capitolo di San Lorenzo in Florence. The correspondence in style between Ricciardo's initials in those manuscripts with the present lot establishes with almost certainty its origin in the Badia Psalter: for example with another detached leaf with an initial A with two male saints formerly in the Breslauer Collection, W. Voelkle and R Wieck, The Bernard H. Breslauer collection of Manuscript Illuminations, 1992, no 82.
There has been an interesting modification to the text that demonstrates the influence of humanistic thought in Florence even upon religious service books. The medieval Latin spelling, deplored by Poggio Bracciolini as 'nefas et sacrilegium', has been corrected and the original 'michi' has been meticulously changed to the classically correct 'mihi'. We are grateful to Consuelo Dutschke for this observation.