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The Coronation of the Virgin, by the Master of the Houghton Miniatures
[FLANDERS (GHENT), 15TH CENTURY (C.1480)]
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11
The Coronation of the Virgin, by the Master of the Houghton Miniatures
[FLANDERS (GHENT), 15TH CENTURY (C.1480)]
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Music, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts and Continental Books

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The Coronation of the Virgin, by the Master of the Houghton Miniatures
[FLANDERS (GHENT), 15TH CENTURY (C.1480)]
single miniature, c.128x78mm, vellum, trimmed to the edge of the painted frame, laid down on thick card (138x90mm); at the top centre of the composition God the Father sits surrounded by celestial light, wearing a triple tiara and holding a sceptre in his left hand, blessing with his right; the Virgin Mary sits at his feet, already crowned as Queen of Heaven; below them is an arc of eight seated saints of whom the four middle men are presumably the Four Great Latin Doctors of the Church (Sts Ambrose and Augustine are the bishops, Gregory is the pope, and Jerome is the Cardinal); facing them, and with his back to the viewer is a tonsured (but not nimbed) male figure; closer to the viewer in the foreground are two more arcs of seated saints; in the lower corners are cloud-like areas of sky-blue, and cherubim in the upper corners; with two small punctures in the gold framing-line at the top edge, and the red pigments of God's robe and the cherubim probably faded, overall in extremely fine condition
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Catalogue Note

The most striking feature of this miniature is the wonderful subtlety and variety with which the figures are individualised, their facial types ranging from young women with porcelain-smooth skin to old men with hollowing cheeks, very reminiscent of the Studies of Fourteen Heads drawing in the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett (Illuminating the Renaissance, cat.no.35).

Despite being by the same artist and from the same manuscript as the preceding lot, this miniature is in many ways entirely different. While the David scene is solidly grounded in the ‘real world’ of 15th-century Flanders, the present scene is set in an ethereal space in which the benches on which the figures sit are implied, not depicted. While David and God make eye-contact across a single diagonal axis, the present scene has a variety of criss-crossing interactions: God looks out at us, the viewer; the Virgin looks at God; some of the seated saints look at God, some at the Virgin, and at least one looks at the figure in the centre, who has his back to us. This raises the central question about the composition: what does it represent?

This unique composition was previously identified as ‘The Vision of St Dominic’, but the central figure of the scene is not dressed as a Dominican, has no other identifying attribute, and is the only figure without a halo. It is most that the present miniature is a standard subject – albeit in a very innovative form – namely The Coronation of the Virgin, which typically appears at the hour of Compline in a Book of Hours, and is typically followed by the Seven Penitential Psalms illustrated by David in Penitence. Scenes of the Coronation of the Virgin surrounded by the Doctors of the Church and other saints are found later in such manuscripts as the Grimani Breviary, and were certainly known earlier in the 15th century in Italy (e.g. Fra Angelico’s altarpieces at the Uffizi and the Louvre), and France (e.g. Enguerrand Quarton’s at Villeneuve-lès-Avignon).

Music, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts and Continental Books

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London