This vast initial ‘A’ is on the scale of a small panel painting. In the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century, the style of Sienese painting was dominated by the celebrated Duccio di Buoninsegna (fl.1278-1318). Although his early work is profoundly indebted to Byzantine models, after the turn of the century his paintings show an increasing interest in space and an exploration of human emotion, which deeply influenced Pre-Renaissance painting in the city. The artist of this illumination sits within this transitional milieu, and was influenced by this approach to the human form and to narrative. It fills the gap in Sienese manuscript illumination between a leaf attributed to Duccio (Palladino, Treasures of Lost Art, 2003, pp.48-50; see also the leaf in our rooms, 29 June 2007, lot 16, with sister leaves in the Beinecke and Harvard, MS.Typ.271), but perhaps instead by the Maestro dei Salteri (an artist probably active in Siena and Pisa in the last decades of the thirteenth century), and the works of the Master of Sant’Eugenio, who worked in the second quarter of the fourteenth century.
Most remarkable here is the forceful modelling with light and shade and the fine texture of hair and beards. The keen interest to detail is also expressed in the minute decoration of the initial with white penwork patterns and the eye-catching column which supports the centre of the initial and the figure of Christ.
The striking image of Christ accompanied by four prophets is based on the chant it introduced, which quotes parts of the book of Isaiah thought to foretell the second coming of Christ at the end of time (see Toesca, La Collezione di Ulrico Hoepli, 1930, nos.LXXXI and XXXXIV).
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