28 November 2001
ST AMBROSE, in an initial P cut from an ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT CHOIRBOOK ON VELLUM
111 x 116mm overall. St Ambrose in mitre and chasuble, holding his scourge and crosier and standing in a flowery meadow before a blue background patterned with white, within a large initial P with staves of rich pink with white foliate decoration against a ground of burnished gold (small pigment losses in staves, some rubbing to gold). Mounted and framed.
The saturated and highly decorative colours and charming, somewhat doll-like face of the saint are characteristic features of Milanese illumination from the end of the 14th into the third quarter of the 15th century. It could not be a more appropriate style to represent St Ambrose, patron saint of Milan.
This initial is identifiable as belonging with a group of dispersed cuttings (several belonging to the Houghton Library, Harvard) brought together as originating from a single choirbook in a discussion by Anna Melograni: 'Miniature inedite del Quattrocento lombardo nelle collezione americane', Storia dell'Arte, 1994, pp.289-294. They are the work of an artist given the name Maestro dai fondi giallini on the basis of his distinctive use of a mustard-yellow pigment. His style owes an obvious debt to the Master of the Vitae Imperatorum, favoured illuminator of Filippo-Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan. The work of the Maestro dai fondi giallini was first identified in a series of Graduals made for the convent of Sant'Agostino in Cremona (Cremona, Museo Civio, mss XIII-XV), and this group of initials, several representing St Augustine or Augustinians, almost certainly came from a dismembered volume -- or volumes -- of the same series.
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