(Flanders, doubtless Bruges, second half of the 15th century). 98 x 64 mm. (3 7/8 x 2 1/2"). No text on the side with the miniature, and blank on the other side.
Verso WITH AN ANIMATED FULL BORDER filled with acanthus leaves and much other vegetation as well as many burnished gold bezants, a pink and gray bird flying across the top border, a strutting peacock with a golden tail in the lower border, and a small green dragon with a long red tongue in the fore-edge border, the border ENCLOSING A SMALL, MOURNFUL MINIATURE OF THE PIETÀ (measuring 50 x 31 mm.) within a thin gold frame, the Virgin Mary in her usual gold-embroidered blue robes seated in the foreground at the foot of the cross with the bloodied body of her son draped across her lap, Mary Magdalene and Saint John on either side of the Virgin in matching red and light blue robes, the craggy hill of Calvary extending behind the cross, with trees in a meadow and the towers of Jerusalem in the distance. IN ESPECIALLY FINE CONDITION--very bright, clean, and fresh, and without any loss of paint or gold.
This leaf is characteristic work from the circle of Willem Vrelant, the leading purveyor of books of private devotion in Bruges during the third quarter of the 15th century. His leading position among Flemish illuminators of the time is indicated by the considerable number of manuscripts illustrated in his manner by other miniaturists both in Bruges and in nearby cities in Flanders. The illuminator of our Book of Hours shows a number of distinctive stylistic traits. Among these are a preference for boldly patterned cloth backdrops, tessellated flooring, landscapes filled with stylized bushes and trees, and persisting prominent architectural constructions that frame the subject, frequently in a corner (in these leaves, it is a waist-high outdoor wall or an indoor feature resembling wainscoting). The inclination for strong geometrical patterning is manifested in the artist's angular treatment of human figures and their garments. This is a simply composed but emotional miniature in which the Virgin appropriately dominates from her central position. Her robe is spread out to create a stable triangle, while John and Mary Magdalene form more acute triangles on either side of the Virgin, both facing away from her as if lost in their own grief. In a reflection of historical accuracy, the Mother of God is depicted as a middle-aged matron with a double chin, and her face here reflects more shock than grief. Her right hand rests gently on Christ's chest, almost as if she hopes to feel a heartbeat. The body of the crucified Lord is frail, and blood still flows from wounds on his hands, feet, and side. John has a horrified expression, and is holding up one hand as if to hide the sight before him. The Magdalene clutches one hand to her chest in a gesture of great sorrow. The painter has obviously succeeded again, communicating all of this in a convincing way in a very small space. (ST12639c)