PENTECOST, leaf with a full-page miniature from the Munich-Monserrat Hours, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
140 x 102mm (leaf), 122 x 87mm (painted area). In the foreground the the Virgin, praying over the open book on her lap, is seated beside a table with a book and candlestick, to the left sits St Peter and St John the Evangelist kneels at the right; these two, and most of the other apostles, look up at the dove of the Holy Spirit, golden rays emanating from its aura to the haloes of the saints and terminating in small tongues of flame; the scene is set in a grand vaulted and aisled hall constructed of pink and grey stone with a double doorway, the faces of the pillars and the lunettes above the door have detailed sculptural decoration; the scene is bordered by an illusionistic moulding with ribbed spandrels in the upper corners; on the recto, nine lines in a round gothic bookhand in black within a dark pink ruling of 17 horizontals between two verticals, text justification: 90 x 62mm, a two-line initial of golden branches on a green ground (vellum darkened, whitening and craquelure to pigment on Virgin's mantle and cuffs). Framed.
A MISSING MINIATURE FROM THE MUNICH-MONSERRAT HOURS, ONE OF SIMON BENING'S MASTERPIECES
On the recto are the concluding words of the short Hours of the Cross; the miniature on the verso would have preceded the short Hours of the Holy Spirit. In dimensions, script and decorative forms, the present lot corresponds to the Munich-Montserrat Hours, which lacks a leaf with precisely this text, and presumably a miniature for the Hours of the Holy Spirit that follow. The Munich-Montserrat Hours were in Spain from an early date and may have been made for a Spanish patron. They are currently divided between the Abbey of Montserrat, which holds the bulk of the text, and the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich, which has the Calendar and two other miniatures (Ms lat. 23638). This is the fifth of the fifteen to eighteen missing full-page miniatures to be identified: the Mass of St Gregory and St Sebastian are in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angles (Ms 3); the Arrest of Christ was in the Breslauer Collection and the Penitent David was sold in these rooms 11 July 2002, lot 13. For a reconstruction of the manuscript, see T. Kren, 'Landscape as Leitmotif, a Reintegrated Book of Hours Illuminated by Simon Bening', Illuminating the Book, Makers and Interpreters, M. Brown and S. McKendrick eds, 1998, pp.209-32.
The Pentecost miniature originally appeared opposite a page of text surrounded by a border of jewels, an apt expression of the value placed by contemporaries on the jewel-like refinement of Bening's work. Described in his lifetime as 'the greatest master in the art of illumination in all of Europe', he has retained that position among modern critics: 'the art of no other Flemish illuminator so fully epitomises the triumph of Flemish manuscript painting in Europe and its enduring eminence as a court art' (T. Kren in Illuminating the Renaissance: the Triumph of Flemish Maunscript Painting in Europe, T. Kren and S. McKendrick, 2003, p.446, and for the Munich-Montserrat Hours pp.474-6).
Courts were not only places of lavish expenditure and exquisite taste: they were also centres for religious ritual and genuine personal piety. The magnitude of the coming of the Holy Ghost is beautifully evoked through the grandeur of the lofty building that dwarfs the figures within. In the celebrated Calendar miniatures of the Munich-Montserrat Hours, Bening depicted man working with and against the forces of nature; in Pentecost, his mastery of space and expressive figure drawing were deployed to convey the relationship of man and God.