4 June 2003
THE PROPHET OBADIAH, historiated initial 'V', on a part-leaf from a Bible, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[southern Germany, mid-15th century]
Cutting approximately 265 x 200mm. The prophet carrying his book as he approaches an altar within a six-line initial with foliate staves of grey against a burnished gold ground, elaborate curling acanthus terminals the height of the margin of mosaic gold, green, blue and red and pink, and with burnished gold infills and disks, the acanthus supporting the figures of a fashionably dressed youth holding a hoop and stick, and a monkey grasping the end of the stick; a single column (of two) of 27 lines written in brown ink in a gothic bookhand between verticals and horizontals ruled in brown, rubrics of red and text capitals stroked red (minimal darkening at left edge of leaf, slight cropping of final letters of lines that extend beyond ruling). Mounted and in a large carved frame.
This part-leaf, carrying the final lines of the Book of Amos and the opening of the Book of Obadiah, came from what must have been a truly exceptional manuscript: a luxuriously illustrated 'Refectory Bible' of dimensions similar to those of the so-called Giant Bible of Mainz, pride of the Library of Congress and one of the most celebrated of all these large-format works. The revival in demand for lectern Bibles around the middle of the 15th century in Germany is well established: it has even been partly credited with stimulating Gutenberg's production, yet the parent manuscript of the present initial is likely to have been at least 150mm taller than the Gutenberg Bible. With such lush and extensive illumination to open one of the minor prophets, it must have been a splendid and important set of volumes intended for a prestigious patron.
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