(1) Written and illuminated for Isabella d’Este (1474-1539), daughter of Ercole d’Este, duke of Ferrara, and the wife of Francesco Gonzaga, marquis de Mantua; with the arms of Este and Gonzaga in the opening illumination. Isabella d’Este was unquestionably the supreme female art patron of the Renaissance. She was a voracious art-collector, building a private museum in her apartments in the palace at Mantua, decorated with commissions from Mantegna, Raphael, Titian and Leonardo da Vinci. Her portrait was painted by both Leonardo and Titian. The present manuscript was made around the time of her marriage to Francesco Gonzaga (11 February 1490). It was almost certainly a wedding present, perhaps from Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449-92), who sent other costly gifts to her at the time of her marriage and who was the principal patron of the two artists here, retaining Gherardo di Giovanni in his intimate household. The manuscript does not appear in the inventories of books in the walnut cabinets in her Studiolo (S. Campbell, The Cabinet of Eros, 2006, appendix 1, pp.270-79), and was perhaps kept in her bedroom or chapel.
(2) The palace at Mantua suffered two major losses in the seventeenth century, under the ineffectual and spendthrift dukes, Ferdinando Gonzaga (1587-1626), and Carlo di Gonzaga (1609-31). At that time, agents negotiated the sale of the artworks in the main palace to King Charles I of England (for 68,000 great ducats, and including Raphael’s Madonna of the Pearls and Mantegna’s series of nine paintings, The Triumph of Caesar), and the contents of Isabella’s private rooms to Cardinal Richelieu (the paintings of which, including Mantegna’s Parnassus and Minerva, were transferred to the Louvre in 1801). The French binding on the present manuscript might suggest that it passed with the latter to Richelieu, whose library of 900 volumes was mostly transferred to the Sorbonne c.1660. A number of Richelieu's books, however, re-emerged on the market in the mid-nineteenth century: William Bragge owned one (his sale in our rooms, 7 June 1876, lot 374), as did Eugene Piot (his sale in Paris, 23 April 1862, lot 348).
(3) Louis Cartier (1875–1942), jeweller, perhaps acquired on 14 June 1921: pencil note on last endleaf; by descent to his son, Claude Cartier (1925-1975): his sale in our rooms in Monte Carlo, 25-27 November 1979, lot 1296.
(4) Acquired by the present owner in the 1990s.
The text comprises: a Calendar (fol.1r); the Hours of the Virgin, with Matins (fol.14r), Lauds (fol.29r), Prime (fol.46r), Terce (fol.52r), Sext (fol.58r), None (fol.63v), Vespers (fol.69v), and Compline (fol.79v); the Office of the Dead (fol.115r); the Penitential Psalms (fol.184r) and Litany; the Fifteen Gradual Psalms (fol.215r); and the Hours of the Cross (fol.233r).
the library of isabella d'este
Few books from this important Renaissance library are traceable today. Isabella received from Aldus Manutius' a full set of editions on vellum and is reported as having them checked for errors and returned if any were found; one with her arms survives in British Library C.20.b.29 (Petrarch, Le cose volgari, Venice, 1501: illustrated in Splendours of the Gonzaga, 1981, pp.156-57, no.102). There is a manuscript of Suardi, Amor Fugitivus, c.1505, in Yale, and Kristeller lists two further manuscripts with dedications to her: a sixteenth-century Philostratus, Icones, in Cambridge University Library, Add. MS.6007 (Iter Italicum IV, p.10), and a Cebes, Tabula, in Copenhagen, Royal Library, Fabricius MS.138 4to (ibid., VI, p.469). Another Book of Hours copied by Sanvito c.1490, from the Chester Beatty collection, his sale in our rooms, 9 May 1933, lot 64, was presented by Philip Hofer in 1967 to Harvard (now Houghton Library MS.Typ.213), and has recently been identified as partly a commission for Isabella d'Este (de La Mare and Nuvoloni, Bartolomeo Sanvito, 2009, pp.290-91, no.85). To the best of our knowledge, no other manuscript associated with her library has come to the public market since a 19-leaf collection of elegies, written in 1510, which was sold by Lefèvre and Guérin on 1 March 1962, lot 1, and a paper Philostratus, Imagines, dated 1550, from the Sneyd sale in our rooms, 16 December 1903, lot 615.
The miniatures and border decoration are the work of the outstanding Florentine painters, miniaturists, mosaicists and brothers, Gherardo (d. c.1497) and Monte di Giovanni (d. 1532/33; see Miniatura Fiorentina del Rinascimento, I, pp.267-83 with II, pls.991-93 illustrating the present manuscript). Like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, they were students of the great master painter Domenico Ghirlandaio, and they grew to dominate the artistic output of Florence in the second half of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Alongside Attavante di Attavanti and Francesco Antonio del Cherico, the brothers were the most significant miniaturists in Florence during the Renaissance. Gherardo was a humanist in his own right, a lover of music, learned in Latin literature and an intimate friend of Leonardo da Vinci. Gherardo executed the large miniatures here and his brother the borders. The scene of the Annunciation to the Virgin is notably close to that of the painting of the same by Leonardo da Vinci and Andrea del Verrocchio, made c.1472–75 and once housed in the Olivetan monastery of San Bartolomeo (now in the Uffizi Gallery), and Gherardo may have been directly influenced by it.
The miniatures comprise:
(1) Folio 13v, the Annunciation, set on a terrace, angels behind, the Holy Dove descending from above, with a detailed landscape of fields and a walled town between high mountains; the border with five prophets (one holding a scroll with “et regn”, most probably Micah 4:7 “Et regnabit Dominus”), nine putti, four birds and the arms of the Gonzaga of Mantua in a wreath in the bas-de-page.
(2) Folio 14r, the Nativity in a historiated initial; the border with six prophets, ten putti, four birds and the arms of the Este of Ferrara within a wreath in bas-de-page; in the upper border a tiny gilt roundel has had its contents erased.
(3) Folio 114v, the curing of the widow's son at Nain, carried on a bier to Christ who stretches out his hand as large crowds watch, all before a fine medieval gateway and city; border with five putti, birds, skulls and masks.
(4) Folio 115r, the Raising of Lazarus in a historiated initial, as he steps from his tomb; border with a half-length skeleton, numerous skulls and a crow with a bone in its beak.
(5) Folio 183v, David in prayer in a fine rocky landscape with a river, swans, a bridge and a distant view of city spires; the border with birds, putti and a psaltery.
(6) Folio 184r, David with his psaltery in a historiated initial; border with head of Goliath, David with his sling and various putti.
(7) Folio 214v, the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, the Virgin running up the staircase while her parents and family watch from the bottom and a large crowd watch from an arcaded balcony; border with birds and putti.
(8) Folio 215r, the Assumption of the Virgin in a historiated initial; the border with a saint with a scroll, putti, birds and two dragons.
(9) Folio 233r, the burial of Christ in a historiated initial; border with two angels with Saint Veronica’s veil, Saint Helen with the True Cross, and numerous instruments of the Passion (Pilate’s jug and pitcher, the Cross surmounted by a pelican in her piety, the whips and scourging post surmounted by a cockerel, and the hammer and nails).
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