A unique textual document of the legend of St Anthony with an extensive cycle of illustrations
8 Vita Sancti Antonii Eremitae – Inventio et Translatio Corporis Sancti AntoniiManuscript on vellum, illuminated by the Maestro del 1328. Italy, Bologna, c. 1320.
248 x 170 mm. 32 leaves, remaining catchwords indicate the original composition of quires: I6-2 (2 leaves missing between fol. 1 and 2 and between fol. 5 and 6), II8 (complete?), III8, IV8,V8-6 (2 single leaves with at least the rest of the quire missing). – Written space: 188 x 120 mm, one column of 34 lines to the page. Text in Latin, Southern Textualis Formata in brown ink, chapter headings in red ink, versals decorated by alternately blue and red initials with fleuronnée. – 47 initials, mainly historiated, depicting busts of St Anthony, a bishop, probably Theophilos, archbishop of Constantinople, and an emperor, most likely Constantine (fol. 31). 48 miniatures with rich use of burnished gold, measuring more than one third of the page. – Miniatures in very good condition, only minor flaking of gold ground of the initials. Upper margins water-stained, 13 leaves restored, text partly faded. –19th-century red morocco binding with blind tooling, edges and turn-ins gilt, signature “Gruel” on spine, vellum pastedowns and flyleaves, edges red. Bookplate inside of front-cover, notes on the manuscript in pencil.
PROVENANCE: 1.The heraldic elements on the opening page of the manuscript indicate a provenance from an Antonine monastery. The arms of the Antonine Order on the left figure next to the papal arms – probably referring to Pope Boniface VIII who in 1298 confirmed the status of a canonical order. More precise indications could be gained from the third, as yet unidentified escutcheon.Textual as well as iconographic considerations suggest the monastery of S. Antonio in Venice as the place of origin. 2. Collection of Baron Betrand de Lassus (1898-1909) de Montréjeau (Haute-Garonne). 3. Private collection France.
TEXT: fol. 1-13v: Vita Sancti Antonii, parts of chapter 2, 3, 9, 10, 11 missing; on fol. 13v: heading of a chapter 25 which, however, does not follow. – fol. 14-31: Inventio ac Translatio Corporis (in Constantinopolem), complete. – fol. 31v: Tractatus Translationis, i. e. the translation to Vienne (Dauphinée) around the year 1000 A. D., the text breaks off after the beginning of the first chapter. The present codex is the oldest known example of an illustrated Life of St Anthony, the only two other surviving manuscripts having been illuminated more than 100 years later. The same is true of the second part of the text, the Inventio et Translatio, which is handed down to us in just one illuminated manuscript, illustrated in Flanders in the second half of the 15th century and containing the French version of the legend (Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, ms. Ludwig XI 8, cf. Euw/Plotzek 1982, pp. 82-88). The text of the two later manuscripts of the Vita Sancti Antonii, today in the National Library in Malta (cod. I) and in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (Ms. Med. Palat. 143, cf. Gentile 1998, no. 74, pp. 309-311) is not identical with the one under discussion here. Both contain the more detailed version compiled by Jean Macellard, a friar of the monastery in Vienne, at the beginning of the 14th century. The Vita contained in our manuscript uses various literary sources. Although probably compiled around 1315-20, it astonishingly comprises legends of Eastern origin that were introduced to Western literature only about 20 years later through the translations of the Spanish Dominican Alphonsus.The anonymous author of our codex possibly came across the material by word of mouth e.g. from pilgrims returning from the Holy Land. This leads to the hypothesis that our manuscript was commissioned for the monastery of St Anthony in Venice, on the threshold of the Orient. An iconographic detail on fol. 29v depicting the arrival of the saint’s corpse in Constantinople would confirm this provenance. Contrary to the account given in the text where a delegation on horseback is sent out by the emperor, the miniature shows a ship sailing towards the homecoming men, a Venetian tradition of receiving persons of honour.
ILLUMINATION: Vita Sanci Antonii: 21 miniatures relating the saint’s life from his childhood to his death: fol. 1, 2v, 3, 3v, 4, 5, 5v, 6, 6v, 7v, 8, 8v, 9, 9v, 10, 11, 11v, 12, 12v, 13, 13v. – Inventio et Translatio Corporis: 26 miniatures narrating the search of Theophilos, archbishop of Constantinople, for the body of St Anthony. All along his journey back to Constantinople miraculous events testify to the holiness of the body culminating in the healing of the emperor Constantine’s daughter: fol. 14, 14v, 15, 16, 16v, 17v, 19v, 20, 21, 21v, 22, 22v, 23, 24, 24v, 25, 25v, 26, 27v, 28v, 29, 29v, 30, 30v, 31, 31v. – Tractatus Translationis: One miniature (probably part of another extensive cycle) on fol. 32v. The illumination of this fascinating document was undertaken in Bologna, the unrivalled centre for the illumination of legal and theological manuscripts since the 13th century. The 48 miniatures with their characteristic narrative manner can be attributed to the so-called Maestro del 1328, also known as Quarto Maestro di S. Domenico.As the name suggests, this anonymous artist was one of the prominent figures involved in the illumination of an extensive series of choirbooks for the various Dominican institutions of Bologna in the 1320s. Our artist is related to the illuminator whose signature “Nerius fecit” figures in the Iustinianus in Paris (BN, lat. 8941; Conti 1981, pl. XVII, figs. 168-175;Avril 1984, no. 33, p. 46). He belongs to the generation of illuminators, such as the Maestro di Gherarduccio or the Maestro del Graziano di Parigi, who, just like Nerio, tried to reconcile the tradition of Byzantine art with Giotto’s new realism. Our manuscript is undoubtedly one of the earliest works of the Maestro del 1328. It was illuminated around 1320 or slightly earlier at the point of his career where, the influence of Nerio being still prevalent, he was about to become one of the leading figures of Bolognese manuscript illumination.
LITERATURE: The manuscript is hitherto unpublished. Conti 1981;Avril 1984; Euw/Plotzek 1982; Gentile 1998.