20 November 2002
THE MARTYRDOM OF ST ERASMUS, full-page miniature from a Book of Hours, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
112 x 77mm, miniature 65 x 100mm. 17 lines on the verso written in brown ink in a gothic bookhand between two verticals and 18 horizontals ruled in pink, justification: 63 x 38mm, line-ending in liquid gold on maroon, two-line initial in liquid gold on a blue ground (slightly rubbed, vellum made up above, to right and below, the fictive frame painted on the added strips above and right, initial showing through). Framed.
The miniature shows Erasmus, naked but for a loincloth, tied to a trestle table with two men operating the windlass which is extracting his entrails from the large opening in his abdomen. A third man stands on the table to tighten his bonds. The torturers are in clear colours -- red, green, blue and pink -- and the scene is set in a rich interior hung with blue and red and gold cloths. The space is carefully defined behind the fictive picture frame, with the table angled against the corner of the room on a tiled floor.
A prayer to St Erasmus originally accompanied the miniature; the text on the verso is an uncommon prayer to St Victorianus. The Abbé Leroquais lists no prayers to Victorianus and knew no miniatures of St Erasmus in French Books of Hours in the BnF, Paris. The only miniature he cites is in a book from Metz: Les livres d'heures manuscrits de la Bibliothèque nationale, 1927, p.LV. Erasmus was widely revered in the Netherlands and as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers in Germany, but this leaf is a very rare instance of a French miniature of the saint. French Books of Hours seldom have full-page miniatures so that this leaf must have come from a commission exceptional in format as well as content. The cult of Victorianus centred on Limoges, perhaps the source for this miniature with its mixture of refined technique and enthusiastic spatial projection.
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