The rediscovery and reunion of the two parts of an outstanding German manuscript
33 Prayerbook in GermanIlluminated manuscript on vellum. Germany, Nuremberg, c. 1495-1500.
c. 122 x 85-88 mm, slightly trimmed. 140 leaves (of originally 149 or 150), rebound and quire-scheme reconstructed: I10-1, II-III10, IV-V10-1,VI10, VII-VIII10-1, IX-XI10, XII10-1, XIII10-2, XIV-XV10-1.Apparently correct foliation in ink in the upper right corner, not always legible due to the later trimming of the manuscript, miscounting from quire XI onwards. Incorrect modern foliation in pencil survives on many leaves. Quire numeration in lower right corner. – Written space: 80 x 50 mm, 15 lines per page.Text in black ink in Cursiva Formata (with elements of Fractura), ornated with cadells. Rubrics in red, capitals mainly stroked in red, in some passages alternately red and blue. On the first leaves some text portions erased and re-written in a 19th-century hand. – Numerous decorative threeto eight-line initials consisting of multi-coloured acanthus leaves, sometimes ending in masks, partly on gold ground and set within elaborate “carved” frames. – 14 leaves with border decoration of intertwined acanthus tendrils, blossoms, often incorporating naturalistically rendered birds, putti and an ape dressed in a red frock (fol. 2), a walking man dressed in colourful garments (fol. 69). 21 miniatures (of originally probably 28). – Generally very good condition, some minor stains, some cuts towards the folds of the leaves where miniatures have been excised, fol. 135 remargined. – Rebound with text in the old binding: red velvet over wooden boards, blind-stamped with flowers, edges gilt and gauffred. Modern leather drop back box.
PROVENANCE: An adventurous history lies behind the small prayer book, which has now been reconstructed and reunited in one volume. At an unknown date all miniatures had been excised and 21 of them sold as a separate slim volume.The earliest record of the miniatures dates from 1884. 1.Ambroise Firmin-Didot, Paris, cf. his sale 1884, lot. 22. 2. Henri Vever, Paris. The main portion of the manuscript, containing the text, had long thought to be lost but seems to have been in private hands in Germany for some time. 1. Sale, Dörling, Hamburg, 5/6 Dec. 1972, lot 1502. 2. Private collection Germany.
TEXT: The prayers can be divided into four groups: Fol. 1-57 are addressed mainly to God the Father, to Christ and the Holy Trinity, complemented with two prayers to the Virgin and one to the apostles. Fol. 57-77 contain prayers on the Passion of Christ, followed by a cycle addressed to the Virgin (fol. 77-112). The final portion comprises prayers to the Guardian angel, the Evangelists, martyr saints, St Thomas, John the Baptist, the Three Magi, Sebastian, Katherine, Barbara and Helena and conclude with a prayer for the souls.
ILLUMINATION: fol. 1v: Lord in his majesty – fol. 4: All Saints – fol. 8:Vision of St Bernard – fol. 12v:Transfiguration – fol. 19:Virgin with child on the crescent moon – fol. 50: Pietà – fol. 54v: Christ with his disciples – fol. 58: Mass of St Gregory – fol. 63: Temptation of Christ – fol. 66v: Flagellation of Christ – fol. 68v: Bearing of the cross – fol. 71: Preparations for the Crucifixion – fol. 77v: Presentation of the Virgin to the temple – fol. 81: Marriage of the Virgin – fol. 101v: Annunciation – fol. 110: Nativity – fol. 122v: St Thomas – fol. 131: St Sebastian – fol. 135: St Katherine – fol. 143: St Helena – fol. 145v: Rescuing of the souls. The subjects of the missing miniatures can be partly reconstructed: Crucifixion (fol. 75), St John the Baptist (fol. 123), the Three Magi (fol. 128), St Barbara (fol. 139). Already the sales catalogue of 1884 pointed out a stylistic connection of the miniatures with two prayer books, today Augsburg, Universitätsbibliothek, Oettingen-Wallerstein cod. I. 3.8° 1 and Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, cod. 87.10. Aug 12°. Moreover, a third codex whose whereabouts were erroneously given as “Nuremberg”was mentioned, which Regina Cermann recently identified as cgm 127 of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich (Cermann 2002, p. 10). Although he ignored the location of the present and the Munich codices, Ulrich Merkl was the first to draw attention to this group of manuscripts again (Merkl 1999, pp. 37-39). Classifying them among the best products of Late Gothic illumination in Germany he tentatively associated them with Wilhelm Furtmeyer of Nuremberg. While this attribution is hardly convincing, a provenance from Franconia can be ascertained by textual features, such as the dialect and the inclusion of a prayer to St Sebald, one of the patrons of Nuremberg, in the Munich codex (Petzet 1920, pp. 230-234). Iconographical details, a miniature of St Sebald in the Munich prayer book and a faithfully rendered view of Nuremberg castle in the Augsburg codex, corroborate this origin. Except for the production of the Dominican scriptorium of St Katharinen extending into the 1470s, a few manuscripts by Jacob Elsner and the works of the Glockendon family, who virtually held the monopoly during the first decades of the 16th century, little is known about illumination in Nuremberg around 1500 (Raspe 1905; Fischer 1928; Merkl 1999). Nothing comparable in style to the manuscript at issue and the three related prayer books is known so far. The miniatures are characterized by a dynamic execution. Colours applied in various shades lend an almost impressionist aspect to the depiction of landscape, as in the Temptation scene where the rocks seem to vibrate with the play of light. Closest analogies with our miniatures can be perceived in the Augsburg codex, which contains several almost identical compositions. Some of them depend on engravings, especially by Martin Schongauer, while the Temptation is based on the famous composition by the Master Lcz (Lehrs 2). Moreover, woodcuts and panel paintings from the circle of Wilhelm Pleydenwurff and Michael Wolgemut, in whose workshop Albrecht Dürer was trained, offer parallels. Stylistically, the paintings of the Master Lcz, active in Bamberg, with their intense palette and prominent use of dark shades for the modelling of faces and draperies should be considered.
LITERATURE: Sales cat. Firmin-Didot 1884, lot 22; sales cat. Dörling, Hamburg, 5/6 Dec. 1972, lot 1502; Merkl 1999, p. 37.The codex together with its companion pieces will be the focus of the PhD thesis of Katharina Georgi. Raspe 1905; Petzet 1920, pp. 230-234; Fischer 1928; Heinemann 1903/Reprint 1966, pp. 177-178; Frankenberger/ Rupp 1987, pp. 78-79; Schneider 1988, pp. 106-107; Cermann 2002, pp. 6-11 and 2006 (forthcoming).