TEXT FROM THE OFFICE OF THE DEAD.

(Coutances(?): ca. 1420). 170 x 114 mm. (6 3/4" x 4 1/2"). Single column, verso with 14 lines in a gothic bookhand.

Attractively matted. Rubrics in red, six one-line initials in gold on blue and pink ground, one three-line initial painted pink and filled with curling ivy on a gilt ground, A HALF-PAGE MINIATURE OF A FUNERAL PROCESSION SURROUNDED BY A FULL BORDER of colorful acanthus leaves and vinestems with gold leaves, verso with a three-quarter border similarly decorated, pink and blue line fillers punctuated with gold. A touch of mild soiling to vellum and gilt a tiny bit rubbed in places, fore-edge just cutting into vinestem border on recto, face of one of the coffin bearers slightly chipped, but A FINE SPECIMEN, the gilt and color bright and well-preserved.

Apart from those relatively few copies with illustrated calendars, the miniatures found in Books of Hours are almost entirely devoted to retrospective Bible scenes that are obviously outside the experience of the illuminator; it is only in the present kind of funeral scene at the beginning of the Office of the Dead that we can see a contemporaneous rendering of a scene from the daily life of the Middle Ages. Miniatures that begin the Office of the Dead vary more in iconographic terms than any of the others that recur in the Book of Hours, and while our painting is typical in subject matter and design, it is unusual in a few different ways. The depiction of the coffin in transit between the church and the graveyard is rarely found in similar images opening the Office of the Dead; the young boy ringing bells at the head of the group and spade and hoe laid upon the open grave are similarly uncommon details. The black sky with gilt detailing, matching the cloth laid upon the coffin, is perhaps the most striking and notable detail here--a fittingly somber shade to match the grief stricken looks upon the faces of the monks. The parent manuscript from which this leaf came was sold at Sotheby's in 1982 (and subsequently broken up). It was written for the Use of Coutances in Normandy, and its calendar contained several dates of importance to the region, including the dedication of the Coutances Cathedral, making it highly likely that the manuscript originated in this area. Beyond its unusual details and origins, this leaf is an excellent example of a high quality provincial manuscript, and the profusion of gold points to a patron of means.
(ST15177)