KING DAVID IN PRAYER, large historiated initial 'B' on a leaf from an ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT FERIAL PSALTER ON VELLUM
807 x 550mm (leaf); 225 x 210mm (initial). The initial, in the shape of a dragon, of blue and red on a ground of burnished gold; the infill with David kneeling in prayer, his harp to one side, a fortified town and a natural landscape in the backdrop, full-page lozenge border of gold, green and ivory white, with foliate decorations in blue, red and white, the lower border with a coat of arms parti per pale; 1: tierced in mantel: 1 and 2, or, a pale gules; 3, vert, [a dragon or?] and 2: checky of 15 pieces argent and azure; sixteen lines written in black ink in a gothic bookhand between seventeen horizontals ruled in red, four initials alternately of red and blue with purple and red penwork flourishing, verso blank (losses to pigment in the sky and landscape of the miniature, some rubbing and marginal wear, especially affecting the lower half of the coat of arms). Framed and mounted.
The initial opens the first Psalm to be read from the Ferial Psalter in the weekly services of the Church, 'Beatus vir qui non abiit in consilio impiorum' (Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly).
A sumptuous opening for what would once have been a gargantuan Ferial Psalter, the present leaf is an imposing example of Spanish illumination of the second half of the fifteenth century. The colour scheme, with its golds, greens, blues and reds, closely resembles that of another Spanish leaf in the Philadelphia Free Library, Lewis EM 31:18A, while the miniaturist uses those same confident strokes and contrasting tones characteristic of Spanish manuscript painting of the period. The person by whom this Psalter was originally commissioned must have been of some importance: the coats of arms in the lower margin are worn and hard to identify accurately, but those on the left may well be the arms of the Dukes of Albuquerque, while the checky of 15 argent and azure is used in various combinations by the Alvarez family, including the Alvarez of Toledo, Dukes of Alba. It is likely that this manuscript may originally have been commissioned by Francisco Fernández de la Cueva, 2nd Duke of Albuquerque upon his marriage in 1485 to Dona Francisca Alvarez de Toledo, daughter of García Alvarez de Toledo, 1st Duke of Alba.