AN ILLUMINATED VELLUM MANUSCRIPT LEAF WITH EXQUISITE MINIATURES OF JOHN THE BAPTIST AND JOHN THE EVANGELIST, FROM AN EXTREMELY FINE BOOK OF HOURS IN LATIN.
TEXT FROM THE SUFFRAGES.(France, Tours or Paris, ca. 1530). 114 x 64 mm (4 1/2 x 2 1/2"). Single column, 21 lines of text, written in a very fine, tiny, upright humanistic hand.
Attractively matted. Rubrics in red, four paragraph marks in black or gold against a gold or black background, four line fillers in black and gold or gold and red (one in the shape of a knotted rope, another a pruned branch), two two-line initials in black on a gold ground with red filigree embellishment or gold on a black ground with wispy gray decoration, text on both sides within a knotted ropework border in gold and black with convoluted tassels at the bottom; RECTO WITH AN EXTRAORDINARILY FINE, SMALL MINIATURE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST in his brown camel hair shirt with a maroon mantle, holding a book and pointing his finger prophetically at his symbol, the Lamb of God (a small white sheep with a nimbus), resting on top of the book, these figures set against a beautifully detailed forested backdrop, and the whole within a simple gold frame (the miniature measuring approximately 21 x 20 mm.); THE VERSO WITH A LOVELY SMALL MINIATURE OF SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST in a simple white shirt and maroon mantle, the saint raising his right hand in a tranquil salute, his left hand grasping a gleaming chalice from which emerges a vicious rampant green reptilian bird, the scene set against a rich black background, the whole within a simple gold frame (the miniature measuring approximately 22 x 19 mm.). IN EXTRAORDINARILY FINE CONDITION.
This is an especially appealing leaf in that it contains two superb, delicately realized miniatures. Particularly impressive is the depiction of the background of the John the Baptist scene, where the artist has used three different greens to make his trees three-dimensional and consequently to give the scene a genuine sense of depth. At least as remarkable is the painter's ability to individuate the hairs on John's shirt, face, and head. The hideous green creature in John the Evangelist's chalice is a variation of the more usual image depicted of several dark snakes wriggling over the brim. The artist's delicacy and subtleness can be seen again here: the painter has used tiny slivers of a lighter shade of green along the top of the dragon's body to indicate reflected light from above, and this technique not only keeps the green from being lost against its black background, but also pulls our eye immediately toward the one focus of discordance in the miniature. This splendid item was produced by the celebrated atelier known as the 1520s Hours Workshop. These leaves represent the finest illumination being done during the final and glorious period of French manuscript production, and, frankly, some of the finest illumination ever done. Given its name by Myra Orth as a reflection of the studio's principal type of output and period of operation (though work continued into the 1530s), the 1520s Hours Workshop created, in Wieck's words, "illuminations of the most refined delicacy" ("Painted Prayers," p. 73). In Lilian M. C. Randall's catalogue of French manuscripts in the Walters Art Gallery, a book from the 1520s Hours Workshop (Walters MS 449) is described as "a fine example of the superb level of craftsmanship attained in French manuscript production during the last quarter century of its full-fledged existence" (II, 532). Kay Sutton, describing a manuscript from the workshop (sold as lot 23 at Christie's on 29 November 2000), says that the atelier's manuscripts "are among the highest achievements of French Renaissance painting." And Christopher de Hamel, in discussing what is probably the studio's chef d'oeuvre (sold at Sotheby's as lot 39 on 21 April 1998), says that the painting done by the 1520s artists manifested the "utmost professionalism. It was executed with a microscopic detail and virtuosity of technique probably without parallel even in the long tradition of illumination." Orth in her seminal dissertation on the workshop identifies four closely related painters as being responsible for the devotional manuscripts known to have been produced by the atelier, almost all of them tiny Books of Hours of jewel-like quality done for wealthy patrons. The four artists are all eponymous: the Master of the Rosenwald Hours, the Master of Jean de Mauléon, the Master of the Getty Epistles, and the Doheny Master, who is responsible for our leaf and who, says de Hamel, "may have been the master of the whole enterprise." Although unmistakably French, the workshop's production represented a synthesis of great moment. "The 1520s Books of Hours are the ultimate statements of the reception of Italianate and classical culture into the French court and into books as inherently gothic and northern as Books of Hours, and they illustrate graphically the rediscoveries of antiquity and the natural world which define the Renaissance." (de Hamel) The workshop has traditionally been located in Tours (which had the status at the time of being France's second capital city), but recent scholarship, particularly by Orth, suggests that its home may have been in Paris. Four leaves from our Doheny Master manuscript were first described (as being from a lost Book of Hours) by Orth in "An Exhibition of European Drawings and Manuscripts, 1480-1880," and then cited by her in "The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal," Volume 16, both published in 1988. Shortly afterward, the manuscript, described as an imperfect Hours, appeared as item #39 in Sam Fogg's Catalogue 14. (ST9378-4b)