The Ascension, Coronation of the Virgin, Pentecost and King David, four scenes on a single leaf, in French, from an illuminated manuscript on vellum
This is a complete leaf from an extremely unusual manuscript which was broken up before 1834 (when a leaf appeared in the Heber sale) and widely dispersed. Complete and untrimmed single leaves of this manuscript are rare; apart from the present leaf and the following lot only the Korner miniature and those held by the Art Institute of Chicago and the British Library have their French text and borders. The painting has considerable primitive charm, and can be traced to Metz. The style is related to that found in Vienna, ÖNB MS. 2583 and BnF, ms. lat. 6918.
The manuscript is usually described as a Biblia Pauperum or Bible Historiale, but the present leaf suggests that it was an illuminated Psalter cycle, closely related in form and content to those of the Huth Psalter (Brit. Lib. Addit. MS. 38116; post-1280, England; Morgan, Early Gothic Manuscripts, 1988, ii, 167-9) and the Munich Psalter (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliotek Clm. 835; c.1200-10, England; Morgan, ibid. i, 68-72), respectively. Comment has also been made on these cycles by C. M. Kauffmann, Biblical Imagery in Medieval England, 700-1550, 2003, pp.151-6. In form the present leaf resembles the Huth Psalter, which has a complete New Testament cycle illustrated with two or four compartmented miniatures. However, in content the now-dispersed manuscript closely resembles the Munich Psalter. Comparison of the numbers which accompany the miniatures on the complete leaves from the dispersed manuscript suggest that there were at least two picture cycles. Moreover, the presence of the full-length portrait of King David on the present leaf is quite exceptional, and only makes sense if one of the cycles terminated at this stage and was followed by the Psalms; of all the miniatures to survive on complete leaves, that containing David is the only one without a caption, and of those which have survived trimmed to their borders, it is the only one with no obvious narrative content. The Munich Psalter contains a New Testament cycle with scenes up to Pentecost, followed by Psalms 1-51, a further group of miniatures related to the first cycle, and then Psalms 51-150, followed by a final group of miniatures of a more general subject. It seems very likely that the now-dispersed manuscript followed a similar course, and to judge from the number of leaves which have emerged so far (32 leaves with a total of 124 miniatures) it was a spectacular undertaking, which doubtlessly drew on the experience of the skilled artisans established in Metz by the bibliophilic bishop, Reginald de Bar (held office 1302-16).
The order of the known leaves of the original manuscript can be reconstructed thus:
New Testament cycle
(1) Marriage of the Virgin & the Annunciation (lower portion cut away): Sotheby's, 6 December 1954, lot 10; again in our rooms 17 December 1991, lot 21.
(2) The Visitation; the Nativity; the Annunciation to the Shepherds; the three Magi: in the Lilly Library, Bloomington, Indiana, Ricketts fragment 19 (De Ricci, Census, p.620).
(3) Massacre of the Innocents; Flight into Egypt; Presentation; Christ among the doctors: Sotheby's, 28 March 1923, lot 707 & 14 July 1981, lot 26.
(4) The following lot in this sale.
(5) The Betrayal; Judas hanging himself before Pilate; the Scourging: Sotheby's, 6 December 1954, lot 8 & 10 December 1962, lot 105; A. G. Thomas, cat.12 (1963), no. 8; Sotheby's, 7 December 1982, lot 11.
(6) Scenes from the Crucifixion of Christ; Christ carrying the cross, the Crucifixion; the Deposition; the burial of Christ; numbered 'xxii-xxv': Art Institute of Chicago, no. 1922.2 (purchased from W. Voynich in 1922).
(7) Scenes from the Resurrection of Christ; Christ with the three Maries, Christ outside with pilgrims; Christ inside the house at Emmaus; numbered 'xxx-xxxiii': Art Institute of Chicago, no. 1922.3 (purchased from W. Voynich in 1922).
(8) Incredulity of St. Thomas; Christ appearing to the Apostles; the Miraculous draught of Fish; the Supper at Emmaus: Gélis Didot sale, Paris, 12 April, 1897, lot 59 (now Fitzwilliam Museum MS. Marley Cutting Fr.19).
(9) The present lot in this sale.
Second picture cycle
(10) The Apostles preaching; SS. Peter and John curing the sick; St. Peter baptising: Sotheby's 6 December 1954, lot 9.
(11) Scenes from the Acts of the Apostles: Sotheby’s, 6 December 1954, lot 9; Sotheby's, 22 June 2004, lot 17.
(12) Scenes from the Miracles of St. Peter, numbered 'ix-xii': Art Institute of Chicago, no. 1922.1 (purchased from W. Voynich in 1922).
(13) Scenes from the Lives of SS. Stephen & Paul (presumably as Metz Cathedral is dedicated to St. Stephen), numbered 'xiii-xvi': Sir Thomas Phillipps' Collection, then Eric Korner Collection, sold Sotheby's, 19 June 1990, lot 14.
(14) Scenes from the life of St. Paul: bound with printed book in the Heber sale (Sermons of St. Leo, c.1490), Sotheby's, 26 April, 1834, lot 4089 (now Bodleian Auct.7 Q & inf.2.9: Pächt & Alexander, I, no. 604).
Third picture cycle
(15) British Library Additional MS. 19,992, a fragment of 18 contiguous leaves, with scenes from the life of Joseph on their versos, numbered 'i-lxxiii'. Leaves trimmed a few centimetres when re-bound. Purchased from "Messr Boone 11 Novr 1854"; note on flyleaf.