THE STONING OF ST STEPHEN, historiated initial ‘S’ cut from an antiphonal, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM, [Lombardy, first decade of the 16th C]
166 x 166mm (6 9/16 x 6 9/16 in.). The saint kneels in prayer whilst behind him three tormentors stand poised to hurl their stones, initial on a burnished gold ground, four-line staves on the verso (some craquelure and minute losses to the gold, the verso bearing the evidence of having been pasted down). Provenance: William Young Ottley sale, Leigh Sotheby, 11 May 1838, lot 105.
The present initial, which presumably would have opened the Feast of St Stephen, is a fine example of the hand of the Master B. F. (fl. c. 1490 - c. 1545), and one of the group of cuttings that can be traced back to a series of choirbooks made for the Olivetan monastery of SS Angelo e Niccolò at Villanova Sillaro at Lodi, near Milan. Although the master remains without universally-accepted identification (see C. Quattrini in Dizionario Biografico dei miniatori italiani, ed. M. Bollati, 2004, pp.438-42), known only by a monogram added to certain works – indeed, a letter 'B' is visible in the present initial between the feet of the blonde executioner – his work was held in high esteem by the Milanese court and prominent Olivetan houses, including San Vittore al Corpo. Leonardo’s influence on this illuminator is clear in the draughtsman-like lines of the bluish hills and city, reflected in the water, in the background; also characteristic of the Master B.F.’s elegant work is the intricate modelling of the clouds – in which an angel can be seen lifting Stephen’s soul to heaven – and the keenly-observed figures, with crimped hair and tonal draperies.