(Catalonia: ca. 1400). 356 x 241 mm. (14 x 9 1/2"). Double column, 48 lines, written in an extraordinarily regular gothic book hand.
Heading in blue with red penwork or red with purple penwork, capitals struck with yellow, paragraph mark in red, rubrics in red, WITH A SIX-LINE INITIAL IN ORANGE, GREEN, BLUE, MAGENTA, AND WHITE ON A BURNISHED GOLD GROUND WITH MARGINAL EXTENSIONS of spiky leaves PAINTED IN VARIOUS COLORS EXTENDING THE LENGTH OF THE TEXT AND PIROUETTING ENERGETICALLY INTO BROAD MARGINS at head and foot, these generating five wispy tendrils terminating in charming flowers in various colors and gold and accented with eight gold bezants (the leafy marginal extensions at head about three inches long, and those at foot more than five inches long). Text a little faded in spots, a hint of soil to head edge, otherwise IN VERY FINE CONDITION, THE VELLUM QUITE CLEAN, AND THE PAINT AND GILT EXCEPTIONALLY RICH AND BRIGHT.
In addition to being in remarkable condition, this leaf is very substantial in size, being nearly 360 mm. tall; it has 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; it is from a work almost never seen for sale in manuscript; and it seems 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, it may even have been meant for a queen. A Franciscan scholar active in the second half of the 13th century, Johannes Gallensis (John of Wales), who may have been a native Welshman, is first documented in 1259-60 as lector in Oxford. By 1270, he was in Paris, where he seems to have died in 1285. His reputation rests on a series of pastoral handbooks for preachers, full of quotations from ancient and patristic authors, the most important and successful of these being the "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 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). The most famous manuscript with borders in this flamboyant Catalan style (but not done by our same artist) is the Breviary of Martin of Aragon (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Rothschild 2529). Though there is no way of knowing if our leaf comes from a manuscript with royal provenance, the decoration is certainly grand enough to make such a possibility reasonable. (ST13059b1-3)
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