THE ASSUMPTION OF THE VIRGIN, historiated initial 'V' cut from an ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT CHOIRBOOK ON VELLUM
[Tuscany, probably Lucca, late 14th century]
200 x 175mm. The initial against a ground of burnished gold joined to bar borders with curling leaves and golden disks with the Virgin, in a mandorla surrounded by seraphim and flanked by two angels in patterned robes, rising from a flower-filled tomb; verso with 2 lines of text and music. Mounted and framed. Provenance: One of 39 cuttings from the choir books of the Carthusian Abbey of Santo Spirito, Lucca, acquired by the Scottish antiquary James Dennistoun (1803-55) in Lucca in 1838 -- Sir Kenneth Clark (1903-83), acquired in c.1930 from Dennistoun's granddaughter Mrs Henley-Henson; Sotheby's, 3 July 1984, lot 92, item 5 -- Sotheby's, 6 July 2010, lot 5.
Originally on the recto of a leaf of an Antiphonal, the initial opens the responsory 'Vidi speciosam sicut columbam ascendentem' for the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin (15 August).
The style displays the marked influence of the Sienese artist Martino di Bartolomeo, who worked on the Cathedral choir books in Lucca in the 1390s, a period of fervent artistic activity in the city that coincided with the political control of Lazzaro Guinigi. The Clark sale of 1984 grouped the present cutting with four others from the same Antiphonal, three of which were later in the Breslauer Collection (Voelkle and Wieck, The Bernard H. Breslauer Collection of Manuscript Illumination, 1993, pp.181-85, nos 67-9). Of these, the cutting depicting the Resurrection (no 67) is closest to the present cutting in terms of style and figural composition: both have the same distinctive mauve and acid-yellow palette, acanthus foliage and figures with patterned robes and straight, almost expressionless faces. The Resurrection cutting bears the lightly sketched arms of Guinigi and a possible clue to the identity of the illuminator: along the top are the abbreviated words 'gi. col. go. fot. chi'.