ST.BENEDICT BEFORE THE CAVE AT SUBIACO, initial D cut from an Olivetan Gradual, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[?Verona: workshop of Girolamo Dai Libri, c.1500]
130 x 140 mm. St. Benedict in a white habit kneeling before a cliff from which a hooded monk is lowering a basket of provisions, a brown devil dancing on one of the rocks and throwing a stone; the initial staves of dark green interrupted by decorated spheres and other ornaments in blue and pink, with leafy extensions in mauve and blue; the whole on a shaped liquid-gold ground. On the verso, portions of two four-line musical staves in red ink with square neumes and text in round Italian liturgical gothic script (slight soiling, some abrasion of pigment). Mounted.
The miniature illustrates the story told in Book 2 of the Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great: 'At Subiaco, Benedict made his home in a narrow cave and for three years remained concealed there unknown to anyone except the monk Romanus, who lived in a monastery close by under the rule of Abbot Deodatus.' Romanus undertook feeding Benedict with bread saved from his own ration, delivering it to him by lowering it on a long rope over the side of the cliff; a bell attached to the rope alerted Benedict to the arrival of the bread. 'The ancient enemy of mankind grew envious of the kindness shown by the older monk in supplying Benedict with food, and one day, as the bread was being lowered, he threw a stone at the bell and broke it.' (Life and Miracles of St. Benedict, tr. Odo J. Zimmermann).
Benedict and Romanus are shown wearing the white habits of the Olivetans, an independent branch of the Benedictine Order founded at Monte Oliveto near Siena. The decorative balls and collars of the initial show the influence of Girolamo Dai Libri and his followers.