Manuscript illumination between Naples and Sicily
31 Book of hours for the use of RomeIlluminated manuscript on vellum. Italy, Sicily or Naples, c. 1480-90.
187 x 130 mm. 272 leaves, complete: I6, II-IX8, X8-1+1, XI-XXV8, XXVI8-1+1, XXVII-XXXIV8. Catchwords with penwork decoration, modern pencil foliation. – Written space: 95 x 65 mm, one column of 15 (for the calendar 34) lines per page, blind ruling.Textualis Formata in black and red ink. Marginal notes for rubrics to be filled in. Lombards alternately in red and gold with violet penwork. – Mainly two-line initials in burnished gold alternately framed in blue and red and filled in the opposite colour with white penwork decoration. 22 large decorative initials on gold ground with extensions into the margins. – 7 miniatures, 5 of them with luxurious full borders, 5 further full borders: penwork with gold bezants and flowers, partly with roundels in the centre of the bas-de-page animated with putti and animals. – Excellent state of preservation. – Original binding “di tipo aragonese” (cf. De Marinis 1947-69, vol. 1, pl. 48A): brown leather over wooden boards on 4 raised bands. Covers with blind and gold tooling: multiple frames, square centrepiece with interlaced bands and extensions in the form of aT ending in stars. Gilt edges. Inside of covers with vellum pastedowns and remnants of a brown silk tissue, 2 vellum back flyleaves. Rubbing on corners and spine, traces of clasps, otherwise fine condition. In a modern black leather box with gold title on the spine.
PROVENANCE: 1.The red escutcheon on fol. 8 has been retouched, which makes any heraldic interpretation impossible. The repeated use of feminine forms in the text, however, suggests that the codex was commissioned by a woman. 2. Private collection Europe.
TEXT: fol. 1-6v: Calendar – fol. 8-86v: Office of the Virgin for use of Rome with an addition for Advent – fol. 88-93: Hours of the Holy Cross – fol. 94-97: Hours of the Holy Spirit – fol. 98-147: Office of the Dead – fol. 148-165v: Penitential psalms and litany – fol. 166: Short office with integrated prayers – fol. 171v-174v: Symbolum Athanasii – fol. 175-206v: Psalterium Hieronymi with prefatory prayers – fol. 207-209: Confessio ad missam – fol. 210-239: Various masses – fol. 239-270v:Various prayers. The calendar provides useful information for the localization of the manuscript.Thus, 25 February has an entry for the feast of St Gerlandus, bishop of Agrigent on the south coast of Sicily. The translation of the saint’s body is likewise marked (19 April). Furthermore a passage in Sicilian dialect on fol. 245 supports the connection with Sicily. Finally an indulgence ascribed to Pope Sixtus IV, whose papacy lasted from 1471 to 1484, offers a terminus post quem.
ILLUMINATION: fol. 7v: Annunciation – fol. 87v: Crucifixion with the Virgin and St John – fol. 93v: Descent of the Holy Spirit – fol. 97v: Funeral mass – fol. 147v: Penitent David – fol. 181v: St Jerome – fol. 209v: Maria lactans with angels. – Full borders on fol. 7v/8, 87v/88, 93v/94, 97v/98 and 147v/148. The illumination is determined by a palette of vivid colours dominated by a dark red, blue and green. Gold is used for details of landscape and draperies. The illuminator has a predilection for wide landscapes where elements like a winding path or river create a sensation of depth.The horizons are often garnished with multi-towered fortresses reminiscent of French and Flemish manuscript illumination. Other elements that occur frequently are small circular trees, fantastic formations of rocks or stony plateaus that set the stage for scenes like the Crucifixion. Interiors are likewise rendered with particular attention.The scene of the Annunciation surmounted by a vault resting on elegant columns is especially noteworthy. Here once more the influence of Franco-Flemish illumination is evident. The miniatures are mostly placed on versos and are framed by four-sided borders.The facing rectos are decorated accordingly so that the openings of the main components of the book of hours present themselves as luxurious double pages. The borders consist of fleuronnée with tiny gold bezants completed by acanthus leaves, stylized flowers and fruit and animated with putti, animals and hybrid creatures. The illumination is stylistically related to manuscript production in the vicinity of the Aragonese court in Naples. In 1442 Alfonso, surnamed Magnanimo, who in 1461 became king of Aragon and Sicily, had conquered Naples, hitherto ruled by the Anjou dynasty, and had united the kingdoms of Sicily and Naples.Alfonso represented the ideals of the humanist prince, and his court became a centre of attraction for artists and poets. Moreover he was the founder of an impressive library, which was enlarged by his son Ferdinand I (died in 1494). Many of the artists active at the Aragonese court had been trained in the leading centres of Italy, such as Florence or Veneto, but were likewise susceptible to influences from Northern Europe. In return their achievements also left an imprint on manuscript illumination in the neighbouring regions, especially in Sicily. Although the book of hours under discussion was obviously produced for a Sicilian lady, as can be deduced from its text, it is not inconceivable that the artist entrusted with its illumination likewise came from Naples. He is indebted to Cristoforo Majorana, whose activity at the Aragonese court is documented between 1480 and 1492. De Marinis identified Majorana as a disciple of Cola Rapicano, who played an important part in the enlargement of the royal library under Ferdinand I. (De Marinis 1947-69, vol. I, pp. 150-156). For a comparison with our manuscript one may cite a book of hours in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples (ms. I B 26), whose depiction of King David displays a similar understanding of figure and landscape. Attributed to Majorana by De Marinis, the illumination of this book of hours is seen by recent scholars as a work of Nardo Rapicano, a son or brother of Cola, or another of his assistants, the Maestro del Temistio (Toscano 1995, p. 107). On the grounds of the stylistic affinity it is reasonable to suppose that our illuminator also came from this prolific workshop.
LITERATURE: The manuscript is hitherto unpublished. De Marinis 1947-69; Daneu-Lattanzi 1966; Toscano 1995; Toscano 20041, 20042 and 20043 (with further bibliography).