DUNS SCOTUS IN HIS STUDY, historiated initial S on a leaf from an ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[northeastern Italy, 1470s]
365 x 255mm, initial 64 x 64mm. Two columns of 64 lines written in brown ink in a gothic bookhand, justification: 250 x 156mm, paragraph marks alternately red and blue, one large red initial flourished blue, first two lines in display capitals alternately red and blue with flourishing of the other colour, HISTORIATED INITIAL with blue dolphin staves against a ground of burnished gold with acanthus leaf terminals of green, blue, maroon and scarlet extending into margin with gold disks and flowerheads on scrolling penwork tendrils, the infill showing Duns Scotus reading at a desk in front of a window, books in front and to the side of him (margins spotted and darkened and with four wormholes, losses of gold from ground and grey pigment of desk).
This is the opening of the prologue of the Summa super quarto sententiarum of John Duns Scotus (c.1264-1308), the Franciscan philosopher. A prolific writer, known as Doctor Subtilis from the sophistication of his thought, he was also significant as the first theologian to defend the Immaculate Conception. The Scotist system was the accepted doctrinal basis of the Franciscans and was widely influential throughout the Middle Ages. The style of the initial and its decorative vocabulary -- including the scaly dolphin staves and the crisp definition of form -- are characteristic of Ferrarese or Paduan illuminators influenced by Guglielmo Giraldi or Cosmè Tura: see, for example, the Olivetan Gradual probably made for San Benedetto Novello in Padua (Modena, Biblioteca Estense Universitaria, Lat.1022: La miniatura a Ferrara, ed. Federica Toniolo, Ferrara, 1998, p.280.