AN ILLUMINATED VELLUM MANUSCRIPT LEAF WITH A MINIATURE DEPICTING SAINT MARK AT HIS WRITING DESK, FROM A BOOK OF HOURS IN LATIN.
TEXT FROM THE GOSPEL SEQUENCES.(France, probably Rouen, ca. 1480). 165 x 114 mm (6 1/2 x 4 1/2"). Single column, 17 lines of text on the verso (four lines of text under the miniature on the recto), in a fine gothic book hand.
Verso with quarter panel border featuring gold and blue acanthus, other foliage, red flowers, and blue berries on hairline stems accented with nine gold bezants, recto with a three-line initial in colors and burnished gold on a brushed gold ground decorated with flowers and butterflies and WITH A FULL BORDER filled with swirling acanthus leaves, berries, and flowers in shades of blue, gray, pink, green, red, and blue on a brushed gold ground, and INHABITED BY TWO VERY LARGE, CHARMING GROTESQUES: in the fore margin a beast with the head of a man, ears and neck of a camel, torso of a winged dragon, and hindquarters of a lion, and at the bottom of the page a winged dragon with a head in the usual spot and another at the end of its tail (both looking humorously truculent), THE WHOLE ENCLOSING AN ARCH-TOPPED MINIATURE OF SAINT MARK COMPOSING HIS GOSPEL, with his lion at his feet. Mounting traces on verso, a couple of light ink smudges to the border, a very small, faint stain to the lower margin, but still IN EXCELLENT CONDITION, generally bright and clean, and WITHOUT ANY LOSS OF PIGMENT in border or miniature.
Between the whirling, animated border and the intriguing, detailed miniature, this is a leaf that is especially colorful, esthetically significant, and entirely engaging. As often is the case, the border--full of dramatic movement--presents a strong contrast to the delicately painted scene of gentle piety. Mark, clothed in red and blue robes heavily accented with gold and with the short hair of a Medieval monk, is seated in a tower room in a large armchair, with a scribe's fold-up(?) wooden writing desk propped up in front of him. An ink horn, book weight, and scroll hang from the top edge of the desk, and, lovingly, the saint looks away from his manuscript down at the protective lion sitting at his feet. In the background, the stone walls and diamond-paned windows are elaborately detailed, and a gilt-embroidered red tapestry hangs behind and protrudes above the saint. The scene is topped by three gold gothic arches reminding us of the Trinity. The artist has departed here from typical iconographic models, as we see the Evangelist from a point on the opposite side of his desk, rather than from the side. This allows for the optimum representation of facial expression, as well as for a greater sense of depth. The artist is accomplished: he has modeled the gospeler's face quite sensitively, making Mark appear to be middle-aged and worn with thought; he has indicated a light source from the left with the consistent use of shadow; he has successfully foreshortened the central figure; and he has designed the whole scene in an intricately balanced way. Furthermore, the book weight is historically interesting and a bit unusual as a reflection of the painter's intimate knowledge of the Medieval equipment involved with manuscript production. The grotesques, subtly colored in green, blue, and yellow, are more than usually delightful. (ST11786c)