Lot 48
  • 48

An Arma Christi prayer roll, in Dutch, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Northern Netherlands, late fifteenth or early sixteenth century (after 1492)]

10,000 - 15,000 GBP
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  • Vellum
a roll, 940mm. by 172mm., 148 lines, written space 730mm. by 105mm., written in brown ink in a gothic hand, capitals stroked in red, rubrics in red, one- to 3-line initials in red or blue, one very large miniature with the bust-figure of Christ surrounded by the Arma Christi (two dice, a torch, pliers, the cross, a flagellum on top, a spear, the sponge on rod and three nails) emerging from a sarcophagus, wearing the crown of thorns and showing his stigmata, on a blue ground, in a gold frame with sprays of stylised flowers in orange with green leaves to the sides and the top, one large initial in blue formed of fleshy acanthus on a burnished gold ground with orange flowers in the corners, enclosing sprays of flowers drawn in red, one smaller initial in gold with red pen-flourishing and green infill, the text accompanied by borders on both sides, one section formed of naturalistic flowers, strawberries, a gold panel infilled with flowers and fleshy acanthus, all with gold bezants, the remaining sections made of sprays of stylised flowers, a section of leather sewn to the top of the scroll enclosing a metal bar at its end, vellum slightly cockled, miniature with some small cracks (some affecting the face of Christ), the large initial rubbed, kept in an early (perhaps seventeenth- or eighteenth-century) purple fabric case with dark green fabric and metal appliqués including a shield with a monogram, in a modern black leather case, enclosed a cutting from an early twentieth-century British book-dealer’s catalogue

Catalogue Note

Illuminated manuscript rolls are a format dominated by historical chronicles, and those containing prayers are of significant rarity, with only sixteen recorded by Storck (Conrad von Soest, 2004, pp.166-94). They range in date from the late fourteenth-century incomplete roll with the Hours of the Virgin in Latin and Dutch (British Library, Egerton MS.3044), to the sixteenth century, and include a spectacular late fifteenth-century example made for Henry VIII (now British Library, Addit. MS.88929: see online facsimile for further literature). Many, like the present manuscript, contain the so-called Arma Christi poem that made its first appearance in Middle English before the end of the fourteenth century (R.H. Robbins, Modern Language Review, 34, 1939, pp.415-21).

Most surviving Arma Christi rolls were produced in England, and are quite simply decorated with coloured drawings. The present manuscript is among the finest illuminated of the surviving examples, and is the only surviving Arma Christi roll known to us in Dutch. It opens with a rubric which instructs its readers to recite the prayers while kneeling in order to receive indulgence: “Die dese naeghescreuen ghebeden devoetelick lesen op hore knyeen elck mit een Pater noster ende Ave maria voer die wapenen ons heren ihu christi die verdienen xl dusent ende viertich iaer ende lxxii daeghen oflaets”. Other prayers are preceded by rubrics identifying Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) and Alexander VI (1492-1503) as authors, and one states that the prayer was displayed in the basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome on a marble column: “sint Jan lateranen kerck … in een marmoren columne”. The text ends with the name “Jan Cuert Lollis soen”, who would appear to have been its scribe.