Written and illuminated c.1500 for a member of the Vismara banking dynasty of Milan: his arms in miniature on fol. 16r, facing a portrait of him kneeling before the Virgin and Child.
The text includes a Calendar (fol. 1r, many entries local to Milan, including Saint Galdinus, archbishop of Milan on 18 April and the dedication of the cathedral there in October); the Office of the Virgin, with Matins (fol.16r), Lauds (fol. 33r), Prime (fol. 49r), Terce (fol.54v), Sext (fol. 59r), None (fol.63v), Vespers (fol. 68r), and Compline (fol.77r); the Penitential Psalms (fol. 104r) and a Litany; instructions in Italian to say these prayers with cinque pater noster e cinq[ue] ave maria (fol. 142r); a Litany of the Virgin (fol. 143r); and many other prayers and suffrages, at least one of explicitly Augustinian use.
This is one of the smallest Books of Hours ever offered for sale in our rooms. It is superseded only by three others: a book of Hours sold 18 June 1991, lot 155 (37mm. by 23mm.); the Priuli Hours, sold 20 June 1995, lot 97 (43mm. by 30mm.); and the Hours of Saint Francis, sold 6 July 2000, lot 86 (50mm. by 34mm.). It has near-identical measurements to the British Library’s smallest Book of Hours (Add. MS.58280; de Hamel, History of Illuminated Manuscripts, 1986, p.172, life-size plate, measuring 54mm. by 40mm.), and is smaller than any in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (according to Leroquais, Livres d’Heures, 1927) or the Walter’s Art Museum, the largest collection of Books of Hours outside Europe.
Miniature books have always commanded fascination, and were the subject of an exhibition in the Grolier Club and Boston Public Library in 2007 (Bromer and Edison, Miniature Books, 4000 Years of Tiny Treasures).
“It is obvious that to paint on such a minute scale required the highest skill, and the services of a good artist could be secured only by the very rich. This is particularly true at the very end of what we call the medieval period” (Sterling, The Master of Claude, Queen of France, 1975, p. 5). The miniatures and decoration here are typical of the workmanship of Milan around 1500, and include a number of depictions of tiny realistic medieval jewels. Images of saints for the individual hours of the Virgin are also characteristic of Milan.
The significant illuminations are:
(1) folio 17v, a full-page miniature of the Virgin with Child enthroned beneath a laurel wreath and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, as the owner of the book, dressed in a black tunic with a red arm band kneels before them, all before a hilly landscape with delicate trees; facing a small miniature 29mm. by 15mm., of the adoration of the Child, with architectural borders enclosing a cabochon with Christ’s face and the arms of the Vismari of Milan between a duck and another bird.
(2) folio 33r, with a coloured historiated initial on gold ground, 20mm. by 15mm., enclosing Saint John the Baptist encircled with a banderole and pointing to the text, full border of fruit and flowers with an Agnus Dei in the bas-de-page.
(3) folio 49r, with a similar initial, enclosing a male saint holding a palm of martyrdom, full border as above, surmounted by ‘IHS’ and a cross in gold on a black disk, and with a peacock in the bas-de-page.
(4) folio 59r, with a similar initial, enclosing Saint Francis holding a crucifix, full border as above containing a life-like painting of a medieval jewel.
(5) folio 63v, with a similar initial, enclosing a a bearded saint (probably Saint Augustine), three-quarter border as above, and a landscape, 25mm. by 11mm., of a meandering river through trees in the bas-de-page.
(6) folio 68r, with a similar initial, enclosing Saint Bernardino, border as above with two medieval jewels.
(7) folio 77r, with a similar initial, enclosing Saint Christopher carrying the Child, border as above with a medieval jewel.
(8) folio 104v, with a similar initial, enclosing King David set before the night-sky, border as above.
(9) folio 119r, with a similar initial, enclosing a bishop hands with held in prayer (perhaps Saint Ambroise), border as above and containing a hind in the bas-de-page.
(10) folio 131v, half-page miniature, 19mm. square, Christ facing the reader, holding an open book and blessing, all set before the night-sky, border as above but with a dove-like bird and two jewels.
(11) folio 135r, large miniature, 28mm. by 20mm., containing the Virgin and Child enthroned, border as above with two jewels.
(12) folio 140r, half-page miniature, 25mm. square, with the Man of Sorrows, with Christ, cupping his hand to his wound so that his blood runs into a chalice, border as above with a jewel.
(13) folio 143r, large miniature, 29mm. by 20mm., with Saint Mary of Egypt kneeling in prayer in a grassy landscape, border as above with a jewel.
(14) folio 159r, historiated initial, enclosing a Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, border as above with jewels.
(15) folio 190v, historiated initial, enclosing the Virgin kneeling before the Christ Child, border as above with two jewels.
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