ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST, historiated initial V on a leaf from an ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT CHOIRBOOK ON VELLUM
[northern Italy, probably Venice, late 13th century]
533 x 352mm (whole leaf), 490 x 352mm (folded leaf), 120 x 110mm (body of initial). Within a foliate initial V with star-shaped fretwork St John holding a book with both hands. His HALO AND ROBES, ENTIRELY OF FLAT BURNISHED GOLD contoured in black, contrast brilliantly with the opaque blue background enlivened with white filigree ornament. On the reverse, two initials in red or blue with contrasting penwork (small paint losses from stave of initial, small abrasions to gold, edge of lower margin folded over). Provenance: Eric Korner (1893-1980): his Ms 8 and sale Sotheby's, 19 June 1990.
On the verso of a leaf from an Antiphonary, the initial opens the antiphon, Valde honorandus est for Prime of the Office for the feast of John the Evangelist (27 December), which revered John's close relationship with Jesus, recalling how he rested on the Lord's shoulder at the Last Supper and was appointed by Christ the guardian of His mother at the Crucifixion (John 19:25-27). Traditionally held to be the youngest of the Apostles, and author of the fourth Gospel and the book of Revelation, John is depicted as a youthful man with a book complete with bosses and clasps.
The modelling of the face, hands and feet of the saint, the elaborate geometric form of the initial, white tracery, and palette are characteristic of Bolognese manuscripts of the second half of the thirteenth century, see F. Todini, ed., La Spezia, Museo Civico Amadeo Lia: miniature, 1996, no 27); T. Kren et al., Masterpieces of the J. Paul Getty Museum: Illuminated Manuscripts, 1997, no 19); A. Conti, La miniature bolognese: scuole e botteghe 1270-1340, 1981, fig.143; G. Mariani Canova, Miniature dell'Italia settentrionale nella fondazione Giorgio Cini, 1978, no 1, fig.1c. The extensive areas of gold and the monumentality of the figure, however, which recall Byzantine icon painting and mosaics, point to a Venetian origin. Another leaf from the same manuscript, though illuminated by a different hand, belonged to Rosy Schilling: her sale, Sothebys, 23 June 1987, lot 9 and afterwards Maggs, Bulletin, 14, 1988, no 5. It has an initial of the Dormition of the Virgin, a subject originating in the eastern tradition, with the garments of Mary, Christ and one of the Apostles also painted entirely in gold.