4 June 2003
SAINT IN PRAYER, in an initial D cut from an ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT CHOIRBOOK ON VELLUM
[Umbria, probably Perugia, late 13th century]
153 x 125mm overall. The elderly saint kneels in supplication beneath the hand of God emerging from a divided cloud, within an initial with pale pink staves with monochrome decoration and terminals of coiling tendrils in turquoise with orange and blue leaves, tendrils and stave with inserts of burnished gold, all against a ground of blue with white filigree decoration (a few small losses from surface including across brow and wrist of saint and from hand of God, terminals cropped). Cut-to-shape, mounted and framed.
While there are no obvious attributes to identify the kneeling saint he may well be the penitent King David. The initial could have opened Psalm 101 Domine, exaudi orationem meum, one of the major divisions in a Ferial Psalter, which was customarily illustrated with David in prayer before the Lord.
The decorative forms of this elegant and refined initial -- for example the filigree whirly-gigs, the golden insets into staves and the rim of mosaic gold around the infill -- reveal its likely origin in Umbria. It is particularly close to some of the initials of a fragmentary Gradual from S. Lorenzo in Perugia (now Biblioteca Capitolare Ms 16: A. Caleca, Miniature in Umbria, pp.83-85) and a Bible in Paris that has been credited to the same group of illuminators (BnF Ms lat.41: F. Avril & M.-T. Gousset, Manuscrits enluminés d'origine italienne, 2, xiiie siècle, 1984, pp.116-120). The present initial may be the product of the same workshop.
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