c 1420 Breviary Leaf - Madonna and Child - Christmas Week


Original leaf from a medieval manuscript Breviary. 30 lines of Latin text, written in double columns with dark brown & red ink in fine rounded gothic book hand on animal vellum. (135 x 97mm – 5 3/8 x 3 ¾’’)

Italy, c. 1420.

One nine-line historiated initial in red with white penwork - with an unusual Byzantine influenced miniature  of  the Madonna and Child in a Grotto,  resting on a burnished gold ground. Four multi-line illuminated initials alternating in blue and red and with intricate contrasting red and blue penwork into the margins. Exceptionally ornate border in colorful floral motif with burnished gold bezants.

The historiated “C” begins a prayer for Sunday in the Octave of Christmas:  “Concede (the remaining letters the word are found to the right of the painting written vertically down the side of the miniature: O, N, C, E, De) quesumus omnipotens deus ut nos unigeniti tui…” (Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we who groan under the old captivity of sin, may be freed therefrom by the new birth of thine Only Begotten Son).

This is a rare late echo of the Byzantine influence on Italian art. The image of virgin and child is in a cave, which is how the nativity is portrayed in the East, whereas in the West show the scene in an outside barn. By the time this leaf was illuminated Italian art schools were flourishing and the Byzantine influence was being crowded out by local traditions and tastes. This fine inhabited initial is very Italian in style, but the cave iconography makes one wonder if the artist was looking at a much earlier exemplar.

A Breviary is composed of many books (prayers, hymns, psalms...) painstakingly but carefully written by hand, & used by monks & priests to conduct daily services. 

A dramatic and colorful leaf with uncommon iconography. Bold colors are countered by tiny precise text. Some rubbing and a  small thin area in the vellum in the lower outer column.

Presented in an archival 14 x 11'' mat

  • Inventory# IM-13049
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