THE CRUCIFIXION, in an initial T on the verso of a leaf from a Gradual in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
503 x 341mm (leaf); 130 x 103mm (initial). Christ nailed to the Living Tree of the Cross, its branches and curling stems bursting into leaf, between the Virgin and St John the Evangelist standing on the frame, against a burnished gold ground; the initial formed by the Cross; sewing holes above upper edge for cloth guard; nine four-line musical staves ruled in black with square neumes above nine lines of text written in black ink in a large gothic bookhand on nine horizontals ruled in black, justification: 383 x 246mm; foliation in red on verso .lxviii., rubrics in red, calligraphic initials in black and red, large initials with blue and red staves with penwork in the contrasting colour (minimal rubbing). Framed.
The leaf comes from a Gradual; the initial opens the introit from the Mass for the Dedication of a Church: Terribilis est locus iste... (Genesis 28, 17), following the Common for Virgins. The foliation here and on the related leaf, lot 3, shows that the Gradual was in two volumes, with this leaf coming from the second volume, where the Sanctoral would have preceded the Communal. While conforming to the same overall design, the two leaves are by different scribes, writing to different sizes on different coloured ruling, and the initials are by different hands.
Although the similarly flexible decorative forms suggest both volumes were produced in Regensburg in one campaign, datable to the 1290s, the illuminator of this leaf apparently belongs to an earlier generation. His elegantly elongated figures with narrow faces are more typical of of manuscripts of the 1270s, such as the Freiburg Bible (Universitätsbibliothek Ms 65, see F. Mütherich and K. Dachs, Regensburger Buchmalerei: von frühkarolingischer Zeit bis zum Ausgang des Mittelalters, 1987, no 65). His sense of pattern is beautifully demonstrated in the Living Tree of the Cross, a visual expression of the paradox of Christ's life-bringing death rarely found in German and English illuminations. It has many resonances: the Cross was often referred to as the Tree, and Christ -- the offshoot of the Tree of Jesse -- as its fruit; the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil brought Adam to sin and death, from which mankind is saved by Christ, the second Adam, on the Tree of the Cross.
The subject of the initial may have been determined by the words of the introit, since Christ's death opens the porta celi, gate of heaven. Alternatively, it may demonstrate the dedication of the church for which the book was made. The Dominican convent in Regensburg, founded in 1237, was dedicated to the Holy Cross and could have been the original destination of the magnificently illuminated Gradual.
Sotheby's, London, 24 June 1986, lot 8; Voelkle and Wieck, no 36.
Lot 3; ?possibly leaves with the Ascension, Nativity, Pentecost, Entry into Jerusalem and St Peter freed from prison, Lucerne, H. Gilhofer and H. Ranschburg, Katalog XIX, n.d., nos 2-6.