MINIATURE. Initial ‘C’

MINIATURE. Initial ‘C’ on a cutting from an illuminated choirbook on parchment.

[Italy (perhaps Rome), c. 1560-1570]


Ca. 9 x 8 cm (framed and glazed 19 x 18 cm). A cutting with the initial ‘C’ in pink, green and blue acanthus leaf swirls, enclosing a distinctively angular and hooked white flower on a vivid blue ground, all on burnished gold ground, cut to edge. Excellent condition.

The strange angular twists to the edge of the leaves and flower petals here are startling distinctive, and find close parallels in foliage painted into the borders of two historiated initials from a series of choirbooks commissioned by Pope Pius V (reigned 1566-1572) for the Dominican convent of Santa Croce in his native town of Bosco Marengo, near Aleessandria. These historiated initials have been discussed most fully by Pia Palladino, (Treasures of a Lost Art, 2003, nos. 87a-b, pp. 18 172-174), and have been identified by S. Pettenati (Grandi Pittori per Piccole Immagini nella Corte Pontificia del ‘500. I corali miniati di San Pio V, 1998, pp. 93-94) as strongly influenced by the work of the foremost illuminator of the papal curia, Giulio Clovio (1498-1578), executed by a team of artists and scribes working between 1567/8 and 1572 there. This cutting is quite possibly from the same dispersed set of choirbooks.

MINIATURE. Initial ‘P’

MINIATURE. Decorated Initial ‘P’ on a cutting from an illuminated choirbook on parchment.

[Northern Italy (probably Emilia-Romagna, perhaps either Bologna or Imola; or even Siena), second half of the thirteenth century (c. 1278)]


Ca. 25×10 cm (framed and glazed 43×28 cm). Long, tall and thin decorated initial “P” enclosing an exquisite penwork human face, (perhaps an oblate of a monastic community or a choirboy), on a cutting from a decorated choirbook on vellum. The shape of the initial and the use of a hot-red colour might also suggest Siena (cf. the Gradual leaf now in the Getty Museum: T. Kren and K. Barstowe, Italian Illuminated Manuscripts in the J. Paul Getty Museum, 2005, illustrated on p. 9), but the curling foliage here also shows a strong affinity with the work of Bologna in the same period (see ibid. pp. 10-11). While Italian cuttings are common on the market, those as early as the fourteenth century are rare, and those of the thirteenth century exceedingly so, and are keenly sought after by the market.

Single long cutting, trimmed to edges of initial, the initial in fawn bands edged with scalloping acanthus leaves, red baubels set with body of initial and mirrored sprays of red acanthus leaves emerging from descender, all enclosing riotous sprays of angular acanthus leaf foliage in fawn, dark blue and hot red, the interstitial space in right-hand of compartment with a detailed human face picked out in penwork on fawn grounds (a youth with thin features dressed in white robes, and thus perhaps one of the original singers from the parent volume: either an oblate of a monastic community or a choirboy), the whole on wide dark blue grounds with scrolling white penwork 8often forming double parallel lines), some damage to foot and traces of having once had descender folded over on itself, else in good condition.

A fine and remarkably early example of Italian medieval illumination, with elements of its decoration (the style of the white penwork, and hot red palette, among others) suggesting that the artist was the Master of Bagnacavello (active late thirteenth century). He is otherwise known from a series of cuttings taken from the choirbooks of Imola Cathedral (New York, Metropolitan Museum, 26.159.1 & 26.159.2, and probably also that sold from F.G. Zeileis collection by Koller, Zurich, 18 September 2015, lot 101), and this may be a missing cutting from that group.

Provenance: From the collection of Roy Davids (1943-2017), former head of the Book Department at Sotheby’s.