(Low Countries [probably Bruges]: ca. 1460). 93 x 139 mm. (3 5/8 x 5 1/2"). Single column, 15 lines in an Italianate gothic rotunda.

Rubrics in red, one-line initials in blue or gold with red or blue penwork, two-line initials in gold on blue and gold ground, a splendid five-line initial painted blue with branchwork decoration on a gold ground, A FULL PAGE DEMI-GRISAILLE MINIATURE depicting the Flight into Egypt within an arched compartment, WITH FULL BORDERS of acanthus leaves, flowers, vine-stems, and bezants, all painted in a demi-grisaille fashion. A few small chips to the paint, one-line initials slightly smudged, and with some minor smudging in the margins, but A BEAUTIFUL SPECIMEN, WITH CRISP DETAIL AND IN AN EXCELLENT STATE OF PRESERVATION.

This is an extremely well executed and charming miniature painted by an artist clearly indebted to Willem Vrelant (active in Bruges ca. 1454-81), but far better than most of his routine imitators. The various Vrelant-style artists have never been fully defined, in part because--as copious documentation reveals--he worked with family members and apprentices, who doubtless collaborated with him on manuscripts, and probably also on individual miniatures. This particular bifolium comes from a Book of Hours sold at Christie's in 1994 (and subsequently broken up before we obtained the bifolium), the description for which notes that it was "also containing possibly some of [Vrelant's] own work." The same description also suggests that the rounded Italianate style of script found here could indicate an Italian or Catalan patron (or perhaps a scribe with these connections). The present miniature depicts the Holy Family en route to Egypt, with the Virgin carrying her son on the back of an ass, and Joseph on foot carrying their meager belongings. The grisaille technique used in this miniature points to the skill and quality of the artist, as silver was a notoriously difficult color to deploy. From the French word "gris," meaning "gray," grisaille refers to a style of monochrome painting, normally executed using a black pigment such as lampblack and an inert white pigment. The technique first appeared in the late 13th century and experienced its greatest period of popularity from the second half of the 14th through the end of the 15th century. Sometimes, as in the present case, naturalistic color (light browns and golds, pinks, blues, and even a dash of red on Joseph's hat) would be added, resulting in a technique called demi- (or semi-) grisaille.