THE EXECUTION OF HERETICS by the B 18 Master, a miniature cut from Gratian's Decretal, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
56 x 92mm. A bishop in blue robes and green mantle, with a member of his clergy, stands before the Pope who is seated to the left, in red robes; to the right the massacre of the heretics takes place, where two men club two peasants who have fallen to the ground, the kneeling figure with his arm outside the border, the other with his crossed legs falling below the picture plain; against a background of burnished gold. (Laid down on paper, gold slightly rubbed.) Provenance: Parke-Bernet, New York, 1 December 1948.
A STRIKING MINIATURE BY ONE OF THE LEADING ILLUMINATORS IN BOLOGNA IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE 14TH CENTURY.
The miniature appears to illustrate Causa XXIII of Gratian's Decretum, which comprises an important discussion of legitimising the use of force by the Church. The case concerns an heretical bishop and his community who carried out violent acts against their orthodox neighbours; the pope endorsed the resulting retaliation, where heretics are attacked with either swords, clubs or fists. It is likely to have been cut from a glossed manuscript of the Decretum, and the top edge of a large illuminated initial can just be discerned below the figure of the Pope.
The figurative style and composition are characteristic of the work of the B 18 Master, with his distinctive method of drawing eyes with straight heavy upper lids above small dots casting triangular shadows, tubular drapery and stocky figures. The B 18 Master, so-called for his illumination in the manuscript Volumen parvum, MS B 18 now in the Biblioteca Capitolare, Padua, was one of the most prolific illuminators in Bologna in the first half of the 14th century. He was originally identified as the 'secondo maestro di san domenico', as one of the six anonymous illuminators identified through their decoration of choirbooks for the convent of San Domenico, Bologna. From the 1320s to the 1340s he worked on important and luxurious commissions of both secular and liturgical texts. Compositions were repeated throughout his works, and the present miniature is very similar to the depiction of the same Causa XXIII, in a Decretum Gratiani (1320-1330) attributed to the Master and his workshop in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (MS 183, see f.209v; Illuminating the Law, p.138, Pl.6d.). See Susan L'Engle, 'Master of B 18, the Roermond /Volumen Parvum/, and Early Fourteenth-Century Illumination in Bologna,' Codices manuscripti 52/53 (September 2005), pp.1-20.