Rare Folio-Size Catalonian Leaves from a Very Scarce Work, Beautifully Illuminated


(Catalonia, ca. 1400). 349 x 254 mm. (13 3/4 x 10"). Double column, 48 lines, written in an extraordinarily regular, very beautiful gothic book hand.

Two of the leaves attractively framed. Headings (a single number or letter at the top of each column, apparently to indicate gathering and side of the leaf) in blue with red penwork or red with purple penwork, capitals struck with yellow, paragraph marks in red or blue, rubrics in red, ONE LEAF WITH TWO THREE-LINE INITIALS AND TWO WITH A SIX- OR EIGHT-LINE INITIAL IN ORANGE, GREEN, BLUE, MAGENTA, AND WHITE ON A BURNISHED GOLD GROUND, WITH MARGINAL EXTENSIONS of spiky leaves PAINTED IN VARIOUS COLORS AND PIROUETTING ENERGETICALLY INTO BROAD MARGINS, the extensions generating three to six wispy tendrils terminating in charming flowers in various colors and gold. A few lines of text a bit faded, isolated trivial dampstains, one leaf trimmed close at top (with decoration just slightly touched), other minor imperfections, but in every important way IN VERY FINE CONDITION, THE VELLUM QUITE CLEAN, AND THE PAINT AND GILT EXCEPTIONALLY RICH AND BRIGHT.

In addition to being in remarkable condition, these leaves are very substantial in size; they have unusual, finely executed, and very pleasing decoration as well as a scribal hand so regular as to make the text appear at first glance to be printed; they are from a work rarely seen for sale in manuscript; and they seem to be of Spanish origin, a category of illuminated materials that, aside from later choir books and grants of arms, is among the scarcest on the market. As is discussed below, they may even have been meant for a queen. A Franciscan scholar active in the second half of the 13th century, Johannes Gallensis, who may have been a native Welshman, is best known for a series of pastoral handbooks for preachers, full of quotations from ancient and patristic authors, the most important and successful of these handbooks being the present "Communiloquium." John's aim in writing it was to provide priests with basic, practical information on how to lead a good life, so that in sermons and conversation, they could instruct individuals of all classes and conditions in the norms of ethical conduct, reinforced by the example of the ancient world as provided by the quoted texts. The "Communiloquium" is divided into seven sections, the first three dealing with secular society, the next three with the church, and the final one with death and dying. The work in its entirety contains no fewer than 1,500 extracts from some 200 works by more than 100 authors, including 170 from Seneca and 103 from Cicero. Jenny Swanson, whose work "John of Wales," published in 1989, is the source of much of this discussion, has found more than 100 manuscripts of the work in institutional collections, and as might be expected of a practical handbook, almost all of the extant exemplars are either copies carelessly written and obviously intended for personal use, or else manuscripts written by professional scribes but unadorned. Only a few, intended for important patrons, are illuminated or richly decorated, like the fragmentary copy from which these leaves come. Swanson points out that the "Communiloquium" appealed to a much larger audience than its author had intended; she indicates that beyond its use by priests as a preaching aid, the book was mined by other writers for quotations from ancient authors. And it was used by laymen, including, perhaps most notably, 14th century Spanish kings (one of whom ordered a copy for his queen) as a source for ideas on government. The illumination here seems to have been done by the same hand as the Valerius Maximus manuscript of ca. 1400, done in Barcelona and now in that city's archives (ms. L/26; cf. J. Alturo I Perucho, "El libro manuscript a Catalunya, origins I esplendor," the plate on p. 165). Though there is no way of knowing if our leaves come from a manuscript with royal provenance, the decoration is certainly grand enough to make such a possibility reasonable.

3,250-$4,500, depending on decoration

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PJP Catalog: 70.208


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