FOUR LEAVES FROM A WINTER ANTIPHONAL, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
These four captivating leaves with historiated initials come from an Antiphonal made in Tournai c.1400-1410 for a Benedictine convent, as shown by the nun kneeling by the Annunciation, probably in a Dutch speaking area, perhaps in Flanders, as shown by the rubric in Dutch added later in the century to another surviving leaf. The twenty-four known leaves from the manuscript were together in an album when sold at Sotheby's, 11 July 1966, lot 213; the fifteen leaves with significant decoration -- these four with large initials, nine with small initials of saints and one with a decorated initial -- were nos 1-15 in Catalogue 179, Philip C. Duschnes, New York, 1966. The leaves come from Temporal, Sanctoral and Communal. Of the present lots, the Annunciation was the first leaf of the Temporal, opening the book, followed by the Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi; the Presentation of the Virgin comes from the Sanctoral.
An origin in Tournai is supported by the instructions to the illuminator in French beside six of the small initials of saints. More significantly the decoration is typical of Tournai: the striking bar borders, the bold initials with delicately pounced gold and the beaded flourishing are all parallelled in manuscripts illuminated by Jean Semont, active in Tournai from c.1385 until his death in 1414. There are, however, distinctive features, such as the ebullient dragons and the chain forming the initial around the Presentation in the Temple. The historiated initials also reveal a distinct and more talented artistic personality. Compared to Semont, he has a more detailed and painterly technique, carefully modelling the faces and drapery of his elegant figures to a more expressive and three-dimensional effect, reinforced by his greater mastery of perspective. In this he emulates the innovations associated with Early Netherlandish painters in oil.
Tournai was central to the extraordinary artistic developments evident in the work of Robert Campin (identfied with the Master of Flémalle), documented in Tournai from 1406 until his death in 1444, his pupil Rogier van der Weyden, born in Tournai in 1399/1400, and the Van Eycks. The initial of the Annunciation is closely related in design to Campin's only documented work, the damaged mural of 1406 from St-Brice, Tournai (Musée d'Art et d'Archéologie). The exceptionally thorough iconoclasm in Tournai in the 16th century means that little is known of the artistic context of Campin's mature achievements or Van der Weyden's youth. Tournai manuscript illumination is, therefore, increasingly appreciated for its importance for the history of art as well as for its inherent qualities. When known only from the reproductions of 1966, these leaves were deemed essential for understanding the artistic milieu of Tournai around 1400, see Dominique Vanwijnsberghe "Moult bons et notables" L'enluminure tournaisienne à l'époque de Robert Campin (1380-1430), Leuven 2007, pp.194-199, 272, 284, 352 (cat. XXVI). Their re-emergence will make their importance and appeal even more evident.