Three Accomplished, Emotionally-Charged Miniatures From a Luxurious Book of Hours


(France [probably Paris], ca. 1420). 210 x 146 mm. (8 1/4 x 5 3/4"). Single column, recto with five lines of text, verso with 16 lines, all in a very pleasing, very regular gothic book hand.

Attractively matted. Rubrics in red, verso with one two-line and four one-line initials in colors and burnished gold, recto with a one-line initial and two line fillers in the same style as well as a two-line "D" in blue and white with enclosed flowers, all on a burnished gold ground, the same side WITH A LOVELY FULL BORDER of swirling hairline stems bearing numerous leaves and berries of burnished gold and with sprays of acanthus leaves, flowers, and fruit in multiple colors spilling from the corners, this border separated from the text by a thick bar frame of burnished gold, AND, AT CENTER, A PITEOUS MINIATURE OF CHRIST CARRYING THE CROSS (measuring approximately 65 mm. square), the sad procession led by the Savior, his head bleeding from the crown of thorns, looking back over his shoulder at his mother with three other women, three men in silly hats behind Christ appearing to enjoy what is happening, the scene with a walled and turreted Medieval city in the upper left beyond rolling green hills. With a small cross stitched in white thread in each upper corner. A little rumpling to fore edge, a couple of trivial border smudges, tiny flaking of paint from three of the women's faces, but with no major defects and generally in excellent condition, the paint otherwise intact, and the considerable gold quite lustrous.

From a fine Book of Hours, this leaf contains a scene alive with detail, from the reflection of red roofs in the river (or moat) that runs beside the crenelated walls in the background to the tufts of grass on the hillside and the clumps of trees in the middle distance. The chief artistic content, of course, is the emotional picture of Christ and his mother: the horizontal bar of the cross he carries on his shoulder cuts across the other people in the scene and points directly to the Virgin. Her hands are clasped in prayer, but she looks steadily and stoically at her suffering son, who gazes back at her, both seeking and giving comfort and support. The women huddled behind the Madonna are grave and frightened, but the men behind Jesus seem to be in a celebratory mood--one even appears to be blowing into something like a trumpet. For Christ and his mother, none of these characters matters; the heavy-hearted moment is between the two of them. The miniature differs from those on its sister leaves in the extravagant degree of its use of gold. The wide gold bar that encloses it on four sides emphasizes the weight of the scene both visually and metaphorically.