Important Medieval Manuscripts From the Collection of the Late Ernst Boehlen

Important Medieval Manuscripts From the Collection of the Late Ernst Boehlen

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 72. THE LAST SUPPER, in a historiated initial on a very large leaf from a Gradual, in Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum. [Czechia (Prague), late 15th or early 16th century (after 1491; c. 1500–10)].

THE LAST SUPPER, in a historiated initial on a very large leaf from a Gradual, in Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum. [Czechia (Prague), late 15th or early 16th century (after 1491; c. 1500–10)]

Lot Closed

July 2, 01:12 PM GMT


20,000 - 30,000 GBP

Lot Details


THE LAST SUPPER, in a historiated initial on a very large leaf from a Gradual, in Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum

[Czechia (Prague), late 15th or early 16th century (after 1491; c. 1500–10)]

a single leaf, c. 610 × 385mm, with nine lines of text and music in square notation on five-line staves, the ruled space c. 505 × 285–95mm, the text in very high quality gothic textura script, the incipit in pairs of lines alternately in blue or red ink, the music in square notation in lines of gold, blue, or silver (tarnished to black), on five-line red staves, creating an extremely striking visual effect; the historiated initial ‘C’, for the introit for the feast of Corpus Christi, with rubric ‘De corpore Christi’, beginning ‘Cibavit eos ex adipe frumenti’ (He fed them with the fat of wheat), depicting the Last Supper, with Jesus and the disciples around a circular table laden with food, plates, and a prominent chalice, St John the Evangelist asleep in front of Jesus, Judas in the left foreground, distinguished by being the only one dressed in yellow and recognisable by the bag of money (containing the thirty pieces of silver) that he holds behind his back, the outer margin with a lush foliage border (perhaps intended to represent vines with bunches of grapes, thus alluding to eucharistic wine), extending into the lower margin; the border ornament cropped and with some overall rubbing, minor pigment loss at the outer edges, but still an extremely impressive leaf; in a double-sided frame.


  1. From the same manuscript as the previous lot.
  2. ‘Bought privately’ (Voelkle & Wieck1992) in New York (from Ruth Blumka?) in 1979 by:
  3. Bernard H. Breslauer (1918–2004), German-born British then American bookdealer, of London then New York; exhibited at the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, 1992–93; Christie’s, Manuscript Illuminations from The Bernard H. Breslauer Collection, 11 December 2002, lot 12, illustrated on the front cover of the catalogue and as the frontispiece
  4. The Boehlen Collection, Bern, MS 1506


The illumination of this and the sister leaves has been attributed to JANÍČEK ZMILELÝ OF PÍSEK or his workshop (Voelkle & Wieck, 1992), whose name is known from an inscribed banderole held by a youthful layman standing next to a cadel initial in a gradual at Mladá Boleslav (Okresni Muzeum, II.A.1, fol. 201r; Graham, 2000, pl. 65b, and Graham, 2006, no. 44), datable after 1493 and probably after 1509. The illuminated initials of this gradual aer particularly characterised by the youthful faces of the figures; it has been observed that in order to represent an old man, the artist simply painted his usual youthful face, but added wrinkles to the forehead and cheeks, or added tufts of hair to represent a beard.

The compositions of this and the next lot are based on the respective woodcut images in Stefan Fridolin’s Schatzbehalter (Treasure Chest), published by Anton Koberger in Nuremberg in 1491, and the manuscript leaves were probably executed about two decades later, to judge by the closest comparanda, two of which are dated 1505 and 1512.

Three other manuscripts have been attributed to the illuminator of the signed Mladá Boleslav Gradual: the Franusův Gradual, dated 1505 (Hradec Králové, Muzeum východních Čech, Hr 6; olim II.A.6; B 1; on which see Graham, 2006, no. 15); the Zittau Gradual, dated 1512 (Zittau, Christian-Weise-Bibliothek, Hs. A. III, on which see Bruck, 1906, Kahl, 2015, and Graham, 2006, no. 134); and the Esztergom Gradual (Esztergom, Fôszékesegyhazi Konyvtâr [Metropolitan Library], MS I.3; on which see Berkovits, 1941, and Graham, 2006, no. 12), which is believed to have been made for King Vladislav (d. 1516) for Bohemia's royal chapel in Buda. They share the feature that the borders frame the text on just two sides, occupying only the outer and lower margins. Unlike the other two, which have four-line staves, the Esztergom and Zittau manuscripts have five-line staves. The Zittau volume has 8 lines of text and music per page, while the Esztergom one has 9 – like the present leaf. The Esztergom Gradual’s reported dimensions (615 × 432mm) are also very close to the present leaf, allowing for the cropping of the latter. In the Esztergom volume ‘the ink is black except on pages with major miniatures when it may be blue, red or gold leaf’ (Graham, 2006). Graham records that seven leaves are missing, but he does not specify in detail what texts they contained; they were doubtless removed because they had major illuminations. The style of the Esztergom is also the closest to the present leaf, leading to the suggestion that it comes from a sister-volume.

Three leaves are known from the present Gradual:

  • The Presentation in the Temple (the previous lot)
  • fol. iiii. Initial ‘C’. The Last Supper (the present lot)
  • fol. xiiii. Initial ‘V’. The Ascension (Perth, Australia, Kerry Stokes Collection, LIB.2006.093; bought in our rooms, 6 July 2006, lot 31; previously Boehlen MS 1505)


R. Bruck, Die Malereien in den Handschriften des Königreichs Sachsen (Dresden, 1906), pp. 374–77.

I. Berkovits, ‘Az Esztergomi Ulászló-Graduale’ [The Esztergom gradual of King Vladislav], Magyar Kényvszemle, LXV (1941), pp. 342–53.

W.M. Voelkle and R.S. Wieck, The Bernard H. Breslauer Collection of Manuscript Illuminations (New York, 1992), no. 47 citing the present leaf at p. 144 and reproducing it on p. 145.

B.F.H. Graham, ‘Bohemian Scribes and Illuminators in the Jagiellonian Era (1471-1526)’, Scriptorium, 54.2 (2000), 319–41, pp. 326–27, pls. 65a–67b.

B.F.H. Graham, Bohemian and Moravian Graduals 1420-1620 (Turnhout, 2006).

U. Kahl, ‘Die illuminierten Handschriften in der Christian-Weise-Bibliothek Zittau’, Zittauer Zimelien: der große Prager Bücherschatz, Katalog zur Ausstellung in den Städtischen Museen Zittau, Kulturhistorisches Museum Franziskanerkloster, ed. by M. Winzeler (Luzern, 2015), pp. 13–30.