29 November 2000
ST JOHN ON PATMOS, miniature from a choirbook, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[northern Europe, perhaps Poland, c.1530]
183 x 172mm. St John the Evangelist seated on Patmos, his eagle at his feet, on the right the revealed Apocalyptic woman, below her the dragon cast to earth and sending water from its mouth, all painted in rich saturated hues and with highlighting of liquid gold, on the verso a four-line stave of red with music of square notation and two lines of text (occasional tiny losses of pigment). Laid down, with a pencil note 'remettre àu .....de Narbonne', in a double-sided frame.
This impressive miniature must once have introduced a feast of the Evangelist in a luxurious choirbook, similar in ambition to the musical manuscripts of Petrus Alamire made in the Netherlands for the Habsburg court and its royal allies across Europe. It is an exceptional and dramatic example of renaissance illumination that has, nonetheless, proved impossible to certainly locate or identify. The representation of landscape appears to owe much to Altdorfer and the Danube School while the monumental figures draw more upon Italian art, perhaps experienced through prints: the script and musical notation on the verso are not southern European and the quality of the painting is more indicative of a northern artist, where the merging forms are clarified by black lines and the fluid delicacy of the gold highlights. There is a tantalising similarity to some aspects of the style of Stanislas Mogila who illuminated a prayerbook for Sigismund I of Poland in 1524 (BL, Add. Ms 15281) and a Book of Hours for his queen, Bona Sforza, in 1527-28 (Oxford, Bodleian Library, Douce 40). Sigismond appreciated both northern and Italianate style, commissioning quantities of Netherlandish tapestry and employing a large team of Italian and German artists -- his court painter from 1529 was Albrecht Dürer's brother, Hans. The rich cultural mix of the Wawel Renaissance would have been a suitable context for the production of this striking miniature.
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