Spanish Forger, historiated initials with scenes from life of Christ, illuminated manuscripts on vellum [probably France, late nineteenth or early twentieth century]
These are appealing examples of this notorious forger's work, produced in the late nineteenth or very early twentieth centuries, and sold to private collectors and museums alike. Doubts about the age of his work emerged as early as 1914, were crystallised by Belle da Costa Greene in 1939, and the definitive work is now that of W. Voekle, The Spanish Forger, 1978 (with a substantial catalogue of examples, but excluding the present cuttings). The identity of the artist remains a mystery, but suspicion appears to fall ever closer to an associate of the Parisian publisher Firmin-Didot (cf. Manuscript Illumination in the Modern Age, 2001, pp.157-62). The first initial here is close to another Noli me tangere by the same artist (Voekle, M.2.2, fig.93), one of a series of initials added to a sixteenth-century Spanish Lectionary (now Yale, Beinecke MS.283). The forger removed the end portion of this Lectionary and used at least one of the leaves for another composition (L.85, fig.226). The initials here would both appear to be painted on other leaves of this Spanish manuscript, and were probably executed at the same time as the Yale volume.