CANON OF THE MASS, gathering from a Missal in Latin, DECORATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM WITH PASTED-IN HAND-COLOURED PRINT
[eastern North Netherlands, 3rd quarter 15th century]
174 x 115mm. 10 leaves: 110, 17 lines written in brown ink in a gothic bookhand between two verticals and 18 horizontals ruled in grey, justification:124 x 79mm, text capitals touched red, one-line initials in red or blue, two-line initials with blue staves flourished in green and red or red staves flourished in violet and red, opening large initial with red and blue staves, an infill of reserved flowers defined by red and green with violet and green flourishing (crease to top of first leaves, margins worn, trimmed into flourishing in lower margins), HAND-COLOURED ENGRAVING OF THE CRUCIFIXION, irregularly trimmed outside the image and pasted onto first verso, border of blue scrolls on maroon extending over sheet and page, sheet: 98 x 55mm; image within painted border: 73 x 50mm; outer dimensions of border: 99 x 80mm (small paint losses to border and background of print).
Prints were frequently mounted in manuscript books as a quick and effective way of providing illustrations, particularly in monastic houses where there were more likely to be skilled scribes than skilled draughtsmen or draughtswomen. This engraving of the Crucifixion is a very fine and apparently unrecorded variant of a popular design attributed to the Master of the Flower Borders (Lehrs 71), one of the interconnected engravers associated with the Master of St Erasmus, active in the Cologne region c.1450-1470. The refined technique of this print would support an attribution to the Master of the Flower Borders, whom Lehrs characterised as the most skilled of the group.
It is also distinguished by the inclusion of details omitted in most other versions, notably the INRI label on the Cross, indicating an early place in the sequence of variants. The label is repeated in metalcuts which are clearly derivative copies, although none follows this composition in all its details (Lehrs 71c, f and i). A metalcut version without the label was pasted into a manuscript probably from around Venlo, which is dated 1463 (Lehrs 71d), and a weak engraving, with the label but without the division of the Virgin's fingers, was sewn with the original binding into a Brabant manuscript dated 1470, now in Vienna (ÖNB, s.n.12715).
Christie's is grateful to Ursula Weekes for access to material in her forthcoming book Early Engravers and their Public. The Master of the Berlin Passion and Manuscripts from Convents in the Rhine-Maas Region, London and Turnhout, 2004.
The text decoration suggests an origin for this manuscript to the east of the Northern Netherlands, perhaps in Guelders. It was possibly made in a monastic house influenced by the devotio moderna, which stressed that God should be worshipped with appropriate honour and beauty but without undue ostentation. The cross below the engraving, provided for the priest to kiss and so preserve the main image, was flourished after the print was pasted onto the page. Since the painted border then overlaps the flourishing, the painting was perhaps done independently of the text decoration by an experienced print colourer. The rich, opaque pigments of the border and background are used sparingly on the figures, where thinner washes are preferred to reveal the engraved lines and hatching.
The composition was in demand for book illustration over a wide area. In a form attributed to the Master of the Dutuit Mount of Olives, without the label (Lehrs 38), it was used in a volume of devotional treatises compiled by the Benedictines of Tegernsee (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 20110, see P. Schmidt, Gedruckte Bilder in handgeschriebenen Büchern, 2003).