MANUSCRIPT ILLUMINATION -- GOD SUPPORTING THE HEAVENS, historiated initial I on a leaf from a large ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT GRADUAL ON VELLUM. [Seville, second half 15th century].
878 x 588 mm (leaf); 260 x 160 mm (initial). The initial shows God in a tree- and shrub-studded landscape holding up a ribbon of the night sky. The initial I is formed of ribbed curling foliage of clear, saturated hues against a ground of brightly burnished gold, the text is bordered by baguettes of stepped fillets of gold and colors on two sides with sprays of leaf- and flower-forms in all four margins. Four lines of text are written in brown ink in a tall gothic bookhand between four lines of music of square notation on a five-line stave of red, rubrics are red; the number 4 is written in the lower outer corner of the verso. (Small losses to the burnished gold of the initial ground and halo, and a few losses to the pigment and gold of the lower bar border, small tear in the bottom line of text, minimal cockling or creasing at outer edges.) Purchased Sotheby's, London, 7 December, 1992, lot 17; Exhibited The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, December 1992-April 1993, The Bernard H. Breslauer Collection of Manuscript Illuminations (extra to catalogue).
The initial opens the Introit 'In voluntate tua' that begins Mass for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost. The scene, showing God supporting the starry heavens above the earth that he created, illustrates the later phrases of the Introit, 'tu enim fecisti omnia, coelum et terram, et universa quae coeli ambitu contenentur'.
A SPLENDID EXAMPLE OF THE ILLUMINATION OF THE MASTER OF THE CYPRESSES FROM ONE OF THE GREAT SERIES OF CHOIRBOOKS MADE FOR SEVILLE CATHEDRAL. This large and impressive initial is the work of the artist responsible for more than eighty miniatures in twenty-two of the Seville Cathedral choirbooks. The rich and intense colors, emphatic modelling, splendidly convoluted foliage and dramatic presentation are all characteristic features of his style. He was named the Master of the Cypresses by Diego Angulo Iñiguez in 1928, a name inspired by the distinctive tall trees that can be seen in the landscape of the present initial: 'El maestro de los cipreses (1434)', Archivo Español de Arte y Arqueología, XI, i (1928), pp.65-96. Angulo made a provisional identification of the Master with the scribe and illuminator Pedro de Toledo, who was documented as working for Seville Cathedral during the 1430s. This identification was widely accepted; for example, in Barbara C. Anderson's discussion of eighteen detached leaves or initials also attributed to the Master and his workshop: 'A Fifteenth-Century Illumination and the Work of Pedro de Toledo', The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal, 21 (1993), pp.11-28. Anderson's discussion includes the present leaf, along with six others -- amongst them leaves in the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Firestone Library at Princeton University and the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester -- as illumination produced by the Master and his workshop in choirbooks, either surviving or dismantled, for Seville Cathedral. The choirbooks underwent radical modification as the liturgy changed across the centuries and the detached leaves and initials were probably removed before the end of the 19th century.
The identification of the Master as Pedro de Toledo has been called into question by Teresa Laguna Paúl. She pointed out the stylistic differences between the corpus of the Master's attributed works with the style of illumination in the one manuscript securely documented to Pedro de Toledo, a Missal in the Biblioteca Capitular y Colombina, Seville: 'Pedro de Toledo y la illuminación de un misal sevillano del siglo XV', Laboratorio de Arte, VI, 1993, pp. 27-51.
Alguno originally suggested that another candidate for identification as the Master was the painter and illuminator Nicolás Gómez. Gómez was a highly paid and highly productive illuminator documented as working on the Seville Cathedral choirbooks from 1454 to1496 and his identity as the Master of the Cypresses has more recently been demonstrated by Rosario Marchena Hidalgo, 'La obra de Nicolás Gómez, pintor y miniaturista del siglo XV', Laboratorio de Arte, X (1997), pp.373-389. This inventive illuminator of lush and imposing decoration in one of the most ambitious manuscript commissions of the 15th century was also a painter of frescoes and the illustrator of a manuscript made for Isabella the Catholic; he has been credited with founding a truly individual Sevillan style of painting.
If Dr. Breslauer's library of rare bibliography and historical catalogues was his most original accomplishment as a collector, his splendid collection of manuscript illuminations was certainly no less impressive, requiring considerable discernment, financial sacrifice and much patience. The thousands of visitors who saw it displayed at the Pierpont Morgan Library in 1992-1993 would have agreed that his tenacity paid off, and William Voelkle and Roger Wieck's fine exhibition catalogue will be used by scholars and connoisseurs for a long time to come. The collector wrote a charming and revealing introduction for it, under the title "The Genesis of a Collection." His acknowledgments to Wilfred Merton, Sir Sydney Cockerell and Eric Millar, evoke a time that inhabits the memory of very few active collectors today, but his remarks about connoisseurship will seem topical to the youngest of them.
A little more than two years ago, Dr. Breslauer decided to offer a selection of sixteen illuminated manuscript leaves from his collection at Christie's London (11 December 2002); not long before his death he sold to the trade all other illuminations that had been included in his exhibition, and they are now scattered in institutional and private collections in Europe and the United States. The only exception was this Seville Gradual leaf, which had entered the Breslauer collection too late to be included in the Morgan catalogue.