MIRACLES OF ST BENIGNUS, large miniature with six marginal miniatures, on a leaf from a Book of Hours, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
149 x 100mm; the main arched compartment showing St Benignus healing a sick man, the marginal scenes illustrating other events from his life; 2-line grey and white initial in the form of twigs on a liquid gold ground with flower infill, with 2 lines of text in liquid gold on grey and blue grounds; on the verso, 19 lines written in brown ink in a lettre bâtarde, between two verticals and 20 horizontals ruled in red, justification: 85 x 58mm, rubrics in red and text capitals touched yellow, the whole trimmed to the frame surrounding the miniatures.
The antiphon O desolatorum consolator is adapted from one used for other confessors, such as Claude of Besançon. The Benignus celebrated here is not the better known martyr of Dijon but a confessor. He is probably the Bishop of Le Puy-en-Velay, whose life is so obscured by legend that it is not clear if he was the fifth-century successor of Armentarius -- it is perhaps his predecessor who is buried at the upper right -- or a later holder of the see. He was credited with founding the hospital which housed the pilgrims who came to the miraculous Black Virgin of Le Puy or travelled on to Compostella -- it is built under his supervision at the lower right. By the fifteenth century, his cult had been fostered to promote the hospital for which the Cathedral claimed the right to collect alms from many foreign churches. Nonetheless, Benignus remained a saint rarely invoked and even more rarely portrayed: this cycle of pictures seems unique.
The leaf comes from the same very distinctive manuscript as the following: the Mass of St Gregory, Maggs cat. 1298, 2001, no.39; St Mark, sold Sotheby's, London, 10 December 1996, lot 29, and Susanna and the Elders, another very unusual subject, sold Sotheby's, London, 6 July 2000, lot 28. On grounds of style, the miniatures have been associated with Lyons; the presence of Benignus might indicate a patron from slightly further south and west, in the Auvergne, for this painter of engagingly patterned narratives.