Superb illuminations. Italian Lectern Missal leaf, c. 1480

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A very large & magnificently illuminated manuscript leaf celebrating Candlemas



Verso:  Two columns of text in Latin written in black and red inks on parchment in a gothic textura quadrata script. Ruled in red, rubrics in red and some initials touched in yellow.  The calligraphy is of an extremely high standard. Two very fine two-line illuminated initials in pink, red, blues, green and burnished gold with delicate shading, enclosing flowers.  Between the columns of text an illuminated bar border branches into the top and bottom margins with wonderfully detailed and imaginative swirling floral and foliate designs in many colours, finished with highly burnished gold leaf.  As fine as these illuminations are, it is the eight-line historiated initial ‘S’ that is the focus of the leaf. On a burnished gold ground outlined in black the letter ’S‘ is formed from red petals and green acanthus leaves which scroll into the left margin and extend into the centre to curl around the bar border.  The sophistication of the design of the initial is contrasted with the simplicity - even naïvety - of the scene enclosed within the initial.  Three groups of stylised clouds - possibly representing the Trinity - float in an idyllic sky as Mary and Joseph kneel on grass sprinkled with blue and red flowers, and bathe the Child before bringing the 40-day old infant to Simeon for his blessing.  The simple scene possesses great charm and innocence. The figures of the smiling baby and Mary and Joseph’s expressions of reverence and humility are highly detailed. Grey-haired and bearded Joseph is depicted in a simple pink robe.  Mary, like her son, has flaxen hair and wears a magenta and gold robe under a green-lined blue cloak. The naked child, unwrapped from his swaddling clothes, raises his hands in blessing. All three figures have haloes in burnished gold.      


Recto:  As Verso with three two-line illuminated initials of varying designs.  


Source: Northern Italy


Date:   c.1480


Content:  The illuminated initial ‘S’ begins the Missa “Suscepimus”, the celebration of Candlemas, also known as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, celebrated on February 2nd, forty days after the birth of Christ.  It is a relatively ancient celebration.  The Church at Jerusalem observed the feast as early as the first half of the 4th century, and likely earlier.  According to Jewish law, the firstborn male child belonged to God, and the parents had to “buy him back” on the 40th day after his birth, by offering a sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:24) in the temple.  On that same day the mother would be ritually purified after childbirth.

A separate page with Verso’s Latin text and its English translation accompanies the leaf.


Condition:  This leaf is in very good condition.  There are the remains of hingeing tape at the top of Recto, edge browning and cockling of the parchment.  A small natural hole in the parchment at the outer edge is masked off by the mat.  The burnished gold ground of the initial has some rubbing, and the inner edge of the leaf has been roughly cut, but apart from these minor blemishes the leaf “sings” with its magnificent illuminations in bright colours, high quality gilding and outstanding calligraphy. 

The leaf is unconditionally guaranteed genuine.


Size:  Leaf: approx. 460x340 mm. Text and illuminated area : approx.  445x295 mm. .


Item No:  MMI010

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