BIRTH OF THE BAPTIST, historiated initial F on a leaf from an ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT CHOIRBOOK ON VELLUM
[Padua, final quarter 15th century]
520 x 400mm (leaf), 125 x 95mm (initial). St Elizabeth in bed offered water by a maidservant, in the foreground a midwife bathing the infant Baptist while a seated woman rolls swaddling bands, within an initial of pink, green and red foliage rimmed with yellow against a burnished gold ground, acanthus terminals into the margin interspersed with flowerheads, gold disks and leafshapes and concentric scrolling penwork; rubrics in red; six lines written in black ink in a round gothic bookhand between music of square notation on a four-line stave of red; contemporary roman numeral i in red, level with initial, and foliation 134 in later brown ink in upper right corner (vellum reinforcement of gutter at left edge, with sewing holes, slight crease through initial with small loss of gold, a few tiny pigment losses mainly in pink foliage). Framed.
The leaf was once folio 134 in an Antiphonal; the initial introduces the responsory Fuit homo missus a deo for the feast of John the Baptist. The handsome scene of the Baptist's birth, peopled by rather solemn figures, is a characteristic and fine example of the work of Antonio Maria da Villafora (fl.1469-1511), who is thought to have trained in Ferrara, but who spent his documented career in Padua, where he was one of the leading illuminators, responsible for illustrating both manuscript and printed books. Of the latter, the best known perhaps are the philosophical and legal texts he illuminated in the 1480s for Pietro Barozzi, Bishop of Padua. From the 1490s until his death Antonio Maria worked on series of liturgical manuscripts for the Cathedral of Padua and the monastery of Santa Giustina, where he was buried. A leaf in Philadelphia (Free Library, Lewis E M 69.20) that is almost certainly from the same manuscript as the present leaf -- approximately the same size and format and with the same red numeral beside the initial and foliated 178 -- has been associated with his late production: Leaves of Gold, Manuscript Illumination from Philadelphia Collections, eds J.R. Tanis and J.A. Thompson, 2001, pp.184-86. The rich decorative colour and the Ferrarese style of the border, however, might be taken to indicate an earlier stage of his career, closer to his Ferrarese training.