ASCENSION, in an initial P on the verso of a leaf from an Antiphonal, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
702 x 475mm. The Virgin surrounded by the Apostles in the foreground of an extensive landscape, above them the feet of Christ and the hem of his robe disappearing into the heavens, the imprint of his feet left on a hillock in the midground; this scene bordered by a voussoir-like band with little monochrome grotesques and the initial staves of frondy leaves, flowers and fruit against a ground of gold with the heads of two putti and a turbanned man in the corners, a border around the initial ground with versions of the texts 'Ascendens Christus in altum captivum duxit captivitatem, Dedit dona dona hominibus', 'Ascendit deus in iubilitatione' and 'Dominus in voce tube' in gold and silver; a full-page border with sprays of acanthus against a silver ground scattered with burnished gold disks, alternating with sprays of naturalistic fruit and flowers against liquid gold grounds painted with pearls, all borders peopled with putti, birds, grotesques and, at the bottom, two angels supporting the coat of arms of the patron; five five-line staves in red with square neumes above five lines written in black ink in a large gothic bookhand, justification: 528 x 350mm, rubrics in red, foliation ii on recto (short tear upper right, left border cropped, occasional small losses of pigment, lower left corner rubbed). Framed.
ONE OF THE MOST LAVISH CREATIONS BY AN ILLUMINATOR OF THE GREAT CHOIRBOOKS OF TOLEDO CATHEDRAL
The initial opens the first response Post passionem su[am] for Matins on the feast of the Ascension, and came from an Antiphonal of exceptional size, probably intended for the public celebration of the daily office.
This vast and splendid leaf comes from a choirbook commissioned for Cardinal Pedro Gonzalez de Mendoza (1428-95) whose coat of arms is included in the lower border. Mendoza, the fourth son of Iñigo López de Mendoza, marqués de Santillana (d.1458) the poet and literary patron, had an illustrious ecclesiastical career which culminated in 1482 in his appointment as Archbishop of Toledo and Primate of Spain. His rise in the church was matched by his military success and influence at court: a devoted supporter of Isabella -- he had been instrumental in her acquisition of the crown -- he was Grand Chancellor of the Catholic Kings from 1474 until his death, and in their name occupied the city of Granada in 1492 after the expulsion of the Moors. A worldly man, he nonetheless spent enormous sums on building churches and charitable foundations.
Mendoza's coat of arms are also found in six choirbooks in Toledo Cathedral archives. Four of these (Res.18-22) were part of a great series -- known as Los de las Aguilas from the eagles of the lectern that held them -- begun under Archbishop Carillon, Mendoza's predecessor, and were apparently completed in 1483/4 when payments were made for binding. An initial with another Ascension in one of these is signed 'iluminó Francisco' (Res.22, f.39v): L.M.F. Bosch, Art, Liturgy and Legend in Renaissance Toledo, 2000, pp.161-169 and 175-188. This illuminator's work is found in all of the manuscripts completed for Mendoza and a comparison with the present leaf shows that it was produced in the same workshop. The borders with their compacted profusion of foliage and flowers peopled with grotesques and putti, the figures in the scenes with their disparate-sized heads and vacant gaze, the delight in incident and detail, the variously patterned frames and grounds, and occasional disbodied turbanned head are features common to all of Francisco's output. Nowhere was his work richer or more delightful than in the present leaf.
Although the leaf does not exactly correspond in size with any of the surviving Toledo Cathedral choirbooks, it may have been part of a lost volume. Alternatively, it could be that the Cardinal, impressed by that series, turned to the same illuminators to produce an equally sumptuous and spectacular manuscript for use in one of the other churches that he built or restored.
London, Sotheby's, 6 December 1988, lot 17; Voelkle and Wieck, no 30.