Lot 1
  • 1


12,000 - 18,000 GBP
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  • ink and body colour on vellum
a nearly complete leaf and a half-leaf, c.390x270mm and c.210x270mm, vellum, 2 columns of 31 lines, c.285x205mm, EACH WITH A LARGE ZOOMORPHIC DECORATED INITIAL CONSISTING OF BIRD- OR DRAGON-HEADS WITH LONG INTERLACING NECKS pen-drawn and painted in colours, the larger leaf lacking only a (blank?) portion of the lower margin, the smaller lacking the upper 15-16 lines of text and part of the lower margin, each with one or more horizontal creases and rust-stained pin-holes in the margins, somewhat worn but the text almost entirely legible

Catalogue Note

PROVENANCE (1) The script has a number of letterforms and ligatures characteristic of the ‘Bari’ type of Beneventan script practised mainly in Puglia and Dalmatia, which differs from the ‘Montecassino’ type of the script by the absence of minims formed of lozenge-like strokes. (2) The leaves were in Italy but apparently already fragmentary by the late Middle Ages when an inscription was added, apparently identifying the text: ‘ … a la cominchia secondo apistole, sic …’ (partly erased). (3) In Ireland by the 19th century and believed to be Irish: the fragments were formerly framed with a 5th/6th-century Anglo-Saxon cross (sold in our rooms, 5 December 2017, lot 1), and a descriptive label: ‘Portions of MSS of Sermons; written in the eleventh century; the initials are of Keltic design … These MSS are the work of an Irish scribe …’.


The larger leaf contains part of (Pseudo-)Augustine’s Sermo I on the Old and New Testaments (‘innocentem perimit gladio … videatur sibi aliquid dixisse: Sciebat’), with the large initial at ‘Debitum de quo supra curo solvere sermonem …’. The same sermon continues on the recto of the smaller fragment (‘pugnavit succubuit … Expoliatus divitiis’ and ‘ut propitietur tibi et vias … et in hoc calumniatur’); the first column on the verso has part of Sermo II (‘[iux]ta dicentis testimonium cohortando … dominus quodam modo’), and the last column has the beginning of Ambrose’s Homily on Luke 18:35, introduced by the large decorated initial at ‘Factum est autem cum appropinquasset Ihesus Hiericho …’ (preceded by a very cropped rubric ending ‘Ambrosii ep(iscop)i’, and ending at ‘ … medicinam an in [duobus]’; cf Migne, PL, XV, col.1790).

The most detailed description of Bari-type Beneventan script is E.A. Loew, The Beneventan Script, 1914, p.150 (enlarged and edited by V. Brown, 1980). The spindly interlace initials of the present leaves, with their long-beaked heads, are very similar to those reproduced by Loew (pls.VI-VIII) from Bari-type manuscripts.

Scraps of Beneventan script appear on the market every few years (e.g. in our rooms, 2 December 2014, lot 6), but large leaves with major decoration very rarely. The closest comparison we have been able to find are two smaller leaves from a Missal (bought by the Schoyen Collection) in Quaritch, Bookhands of the Middle Ages, Part IV: Beneventan Script, 1990, no.8, with colour plate and frontispiece, attributed to Puglia, late 11th century.