A notable miniature by Attavante from a choirbook series in which the Florentine miniaturist possibly collaborated with Domenico Ghirlandaio
49 The miracle of St Michael the Archangel on Mount GarganoMiniature from a choirbook on vellum, illuminated by Attavante degli Attavanti. Italy, Florence, between 1473 and 1502.
280 x 265 mm.Above the miniature remnants of a border with a medallion incorporating the monogram ‘ihs’ for Christ. – Musical notation on four-line staves and fragments of text in a round Gothic script on reverse ("super eum spiritu(m) meum”). – In fine condition, minor flaking to the left lower corner.
PROVENANCE: 1.William Esdaile (1758-1837), his initials in the lower right corner. On reverse a short note with the date of purchase. 2. Private collection Europe.
TEXT: The musical notation on the verso indicates that this large miniature comes from a choirbook. It illustrates the Feast of the Apparition of St Michael on 8 May, commemorating his appearance on Mount Gargano in Apulia. It is to the intercession of the archangel that the Lombards of Sipontum (Manfredonia) ascribed their victory in the battle against the Greek Neapolitans on 8 May 663. The Wildenstein Collection and the Vatican Library each hold three sister leaves and another sister leaf is in a private collection. Their written space and border decoration substantiate the assumption that they all come from the same series of choirbooks. Since in one of the Wildenstein leaves special attention is paid to St Romuald, the founder of the Camaldolese Order, the conclusion can be drawn that the series was made to the order of a Camaldulese monastery. The specification of a city (“Florentina”) on the signed leaf in the Vatican Library led Levi d’Ancona to the hypothesis that the choirbook was made for a location outside Florence. She tentatively ascribes the commission to the Franciscan Pope Sixtus IV Della Rovere (1471-84).
COMPANION LEAVES: 1. Dream of St Romuald, 440 x 340 mm, Paris, Musée Marmottan, Coll.Wildenstein. 2. Death of St Benedict in attendance of St Romuald, 415 x 280 mm, ibid. 3.Two male saints, 340 x 282 mm, ibid. Dated 1502. 4. Discovery of the True Cross, 595 x 405 mm (miniature 257 x 265 mm), Rome, Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Ross. 1192, fol. 22. Dated 1473 and signed by Domenico Corradi (“MCCCCLXXIII Florentina, Domenico Corradi”). 5. St Andrew, initial: 257 x 265 mm, ibid., fol. 23. 6. St Mark, initial: 201 x 215 mm, ibid., fol. 24. 7. Annunciation, 460 x 267 mm, private collection Europe (formerly Dr. Jörn Günther Antiquariat, Hamburg).
ILLUMINATION: The scene is an episode from the legend of St Michael. The saint appears in the shape of a bull in a cave on Mount Gargano demanding that a church be built in his honour.Targeted by a shower of arrows, he manages to turn them on the archer.The archer is depicted in the foreground, accompanied by his assistant who is covering his head in search of protection.The bull is sitting at the bottom of a hill in front of the cave. On the top of the hill St Michael appears after the sanctuary has been built. Attavante degli Attavanti (1452-1520/25) is one of the most outstanding miniaturists of the Florentine Renaissance, and art historians have praised him since his own times (cf. our no. 30). Attavante’s encounter with Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-94), who was about to take the lead in establishing a new trend in Florentine painting, was decisive for his career. In the early days of its existence Ghirlandaio’s workshop is known also to have carried out manuscript illumination. A page from a large choirbook depicting the Discovery of the True Cross in the Vatican Library (see above) bears the inscription of Domenico Corradi – Ghirlandaio’s proper name was Domenico di Tommaso Curradi di Boffo Bigordi. Despite this signature scholars have repeatedly speculated as to whether Ghirlandaio only laid out the illumination and left the execution to Attavante. This thesis is based on the striking stylistic similarity with Attavante’s work. The miniature of the Miracle of St Michael on Mount Gargano, long since recognized as one of Attavante’s masterpieces, is an example of the close collaboration and stylistic correspondences between the two artists. The attribution of the three leaves in the Wildenstein Collection to Attavante has long been considered an established fact.The same applies to the Annunciation miniature (private collection). Except for the leaf bearing the signature of Domenico Corradi the sister leaves in the Vatican Library have also been attributed to Attavante; this attribution has only been questioned on the grounds of their early date of production, since Attavante’s independent work is undocumented prior to the 1480s. On the assumption of a common origin for all leaves from a choirbook series, the miniature in the Wildenstein Collection bearing the date 1502 is of special importance. This leaf and the one signed by Ghirlandaio in the Vatican Library encompass the timeframe within which the magnificent series was created.The miniature under discussion here represents a new facet in the early career of the eminent Florentine artist, since research will most probably assign this work to an early stage in the illumination of the choirbooks.
LITERATURE: Ciardi Dupré dal Poggetto 1973, pp. 8-9; Garzelli 1985, vol. 2, pl. 780. The leaf will published in an article by Gabriele Bartz. Levi d’Ancona 1962, pp. 339-361; Martens et al. 1979; exh. cat. Paris 1981, nos. 8, 15-17; Garzelli 1985, pp. 217-237; exh. cat.Vatican 1995, nos. 46-48, pl. 109-111; exh. cat. Paris 2001; cat. Günther 2002, no. 65; Piazzioni 2005, pp. 102ff., pl. p. 109; Galizzi 2004; exh. cat. Perugia 2005, no. 24.