ST FRANCIS RECEIVING THE STIGMATA, historiated initial 'G' on a bifolium FROM THE BELLUNO GRADUAL, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT CHOIRBOOK ON VELLUM
570 x 410 mm. Two leaves joined to form a bifolium, the first with an historiated initial depicting a rocky landscape with St Francis of Assisi receiving the stigmata from a seraph, he is barefoot, dressed in a brown habit girdled by a rope with three knots representing his vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, the initial with dolphins, cornucopia sprouting green leaves, a trompe l'oeil cluster of pearls around a sapphire in a gold mount, on a burnished gold ground within a bevelled-bordered square frame, 120 x 130mm, in the left margin a roundel with a seated lion in a landscape, a border of antique vases, winged putti heads, leaves and flowers, cornucopia, burnished gold and blue coloured 'shredding', written with six or seven lines of text in a formal gothic script in brown and black ink, rubrics in red, music with square notation on a four-line stave ruled in red, original foliation 'LXIII' and 'LXVIII' on versos in red, indicating that this was the third bifolium from the middle of its quire, the second leaf has initials alternately red with blue penwork or vice versa, the second leaf is by a different scribe and its red initial has purple penwork; despite its differences the second leaf must be near-contemporary and includes folio references to other parts of the volume from folio 'cxx' to 'clvi' (the text with a few characters re-inked, the decoration with very minor pigment losses and small areas of gold missing). Card mount, cloth box.
THE FINEST INITIAL FROM THE BELLUNO GRADUAL
1. The Belluno Gradual's colophon records that it was written, supplied with music and illuminated in Cremona by Ludovico de Gacis (or Gadio), citizen of Cremona, and that it was commissioned by the reverend father, Professor of Sacred Theology Master Francesco da Bolzano (d.1504), of the Franciscan Order, for the use of the convent of San Pietro at Belluno (about 65 miles due north of Venice), and dated 10 April, 1489. Ludovico was doubtless a member of the Gadio (also spelled Gadi, Gaxo, Gazis, Gazzi) family of Cremonese scribes, rubricators and illuminators who worked in the last quarter of the 15th century for Cremona cathedral (M.C. Passoni in Dizionario biografico dei miniatori italiani, ed. M. Bollati, 2004, pp.248-51, with extensive further bibliography including W. Suida, 'Il gradulae di Ludovico de Gazis, Cremonese', Arte Lombarda, 2 (1959), pp.253-60). Based on a model by Cosmé Tura of Ferrara, THE PRESENT INITIAL IS BY ANOTHER MUCH FINER ARTIST ('unanimemente riferita dagli studiosi ad un'altra mano qualitativamente più elevata', Passoni, p.249). San Pietro was suppressed by Napoleonic decree and abandoned by its friars on 16 July 1807.
2. The Princes of Stolberg-Wernigerode at Schloss Wernigerode; their cod.40. (see O. Doering, 'Die Miniaturen der Fürstlich Stolbergischen Bibliothek zu Wernigerode', Zeitschrift für Bücherfreunde, I (1897-98), pp.354-5, with reproduction), with their library stamp on the first two leaves of the original volume. The most valuable manuscripts from the library were sold in 1926 to Rosenthal of Munich, and Hiersemann of Leipzig, and more were sold a few years later to Breslauer (see H. Herricht, Die ehemalige Stolberg-Wernigerdische Handschriftenabteilung: Die Geschichte einer kleinen feudalen Privatsammlung, Halle, 1970).
3. Kurt Arnhold (1887-1951), Dresden banker who emigrated to South America in December 1938; his ms 36; sold to Kraus and Schab, New York; H.P. Kraus, Catalogue 88 (1958), no 46.
4. Mark Lansburgh; bought from Kraus in 1959 (Faye & Bond, Supplement to the Census ..., 1962, p.25, no 5; M. Lansburgh, An Illustrated Check List of Manuscript Leaves, 1962, pl.X); the volume was still in its medieval binding and consisted of 220 leaves when sold in his sale at Sotheby's, 10 June 1963, lot 151, with plate and reproduction of the colophon, bought by Charles Traylen.
5. Dismembered by 1971 when L.J. Rosenwald bought a single leaf (now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington) from Erwin Rosenthal. Other leaves have appeared on the market occasionally since then; such is the importance of the Belluno Gradual that even a leaf with no text or decoration whatsoever has a commercial value (see Quaritch, Catalogue no 1147 (1991), no 70); the present leaf was bought from Bernard M. Rosenthal of San Francisco, 13 June 1995.
The end of an unidentified feast; the feast of St Francis (4 October) (folio LXIII r-v); the end of the feast of St Martin of Tours (11 November), the feasts of St Cecilia (22 November), St Clement (23 November), and the rubric for a mass to be said against plague (folio LXVIII r-v).
The artistic influence of Girolamo da Cremona and Franco dei Russi, two of the greatest miniaturists active in the Veneto in the second half of the Quattrocento, is visible in the present illumination's luminous palette of pinks, greens, blues and burnished gold, multi-coloured foliage, marginal decoration of classicising motifs and an animal-inhabited roundel set off from the page by 'shredded' colouring. Also typical are the gems, illusion of space and rock formations in the verdant landscape, and bevel-edge frame. These stylistic elements and qualities are rooted in the work of Mantegna and the Ferrarese school of illumination in the time of Borso d'Este, first duke of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio, who patronised both Girolamo and Franco.
Whereas the artist of the rest of the Belluno Gradual, Ludovico de Gacis, painted appealing but rather doll-like figures with flat features, curiously elongated heads, and a green tint to the flesh, the artist of the present initial and border paints in a far more naturalistic style. The first leaf of this bifolium contains arguably the most important text of the entire volume - the feast of the patron saint of the convent for which it was made - so it is not surprising that the better artist was commissioned to paint this page.