THE ADORATION OF THE MAGI, miniature on a leaf from a Prayerbook, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
145 x 169 mm. In a rectangular frame of liquid gold patterned on blue, the Magi offer their gifts to the Christ Child, seated on the Virgin's lap; their intricate costumes and offerings, as well as the star and its rays, are detailed in liquid gold; their retinue stretches back from the train bearers to the camel drivers who complete the circle of figures behind St Joseph. On the verso, six lines of text written in a humanistic hand with a prayer for the Virgin's intercession Deus qui salutis aeternae (paint loss from frame, slight losses within miniature). Mounted in a double-sided gilt wood frame.
The miniature is attributable to Giovanni Battista Castello, called il Genovese (c.1548-1637) and so was produced in Genoa, probably around 1600. Castello was much in demand, chiefly as an illuminator: between 1583 and 1585 he was working in Spain for Philip II on choirbooks for the Escorial. Otherwise he seems mainly to have painted independent illuminated pictures, with the notable exception of a leaf from a Carthusian choirbook (Genoa, Galleria di Palazzo Bianco). This Adoration of the Magi, the text on the verso showing that it came from a prayerbook, is a rare example of his work in a manuscript. Castello signed and dated many of his independent illuminations, such as the Adoration of the Magi of 1599 (formerly Genoa, Amelotti Collection), which shows the same fusion of Raphaelesque and northern elements (see C. di Fabio, Giov. Battista Castello, il Genovese, and nos 34, 17 cited above). Castello owned many prints, including a volume of Dürer, and this Adoration draws on the earlier traditions accessible through Dürer and Schongauer. The composition is especially close to the Adoration of the Magi sold in these rooms, 19 April 1988 lot 42 (di Fabio, no 11, dated to c.1600), where the northern influences are more contemporary and mannerist. Both miniatures, however, show Castello working at his most colourful and with an exceptionally meticulous and refined technique.
This miniature was owned by Charles Fairfax Murray (1849-1919): to the current owner by descent.