One of the Most Beautiful Miniatures We Have Ever Offered for Sale


(France [perhaps Rennes?]: ca. 1435). 180 x 140 mm. (7 1/8 x 5 1/2"). Single column, verso with 14 lines in a large, fine gothic hand.

Matted. Capitals struck with yellow, verso with a line-ender in pink, blue, and gilt with white tracery, recto with a four-line initial in blue with delicate white tracery on gilt ground and filled with red and blue leaves, A FULL BORDER of dense rinceau decoration, the penwork vines terminating in gilt bezants and red and blue flowers, each corner with a different flowering plant, including strawberries and red, blue, or pink flowers, A HALF PAGE MINIATURE DEPICTING THE ATTEMPTED MARTYRDOM OF ST. SEBASTIAN, framed in gilt and with an additional three-quarter frame of gold and blue bars surrounding the text and miniature. See: Walters II, 108; Diane E. Booton, "Manuscript, Market, and the Transition to Print in Late Medieval Brittany," pp. 53-58. Margins trimmed a little close to the border, one corner with just a hint of soiling and one small flower rubbed away, some of the gold bezants faintly dulled, but THE MINIATURE IN IMMACULATE CONDITION, seemingly as fresh and richly hued as the day it was painted.

With intense coloring and in a remarkable state of preservation, this exquisitely painted miniature features the "first" martyrdom of St. Sebastian, a scene rendered here in beautiful detail by an important French illuminator. As the accompanying prayer to this miniature suggests, St. Sebastian was invoked for protection against the plague, making him one of the most popular saints of the Medieval period. (Although he is invariably pictured as shot full of arrows, Sebastian did not die from these punctures, but rather was nursed back to health by St. Irene. He then returned to serve the emperor, who delivered the second and final martyrdom, having him clubbed to death.) The present scene depicts the first attempted execution, with St. Sebastian on the right of the composition, naked but for a loincloth and tied to a tree. He twists his torso and head to the left toward two archers in colorful dress, their bows taut and with arrows ready to fly. The saint has already been shot six times, from the base of the neck to the knee, the shafts of the arrows protruding from the body in parallel lines. Two bunches of arrows lie on the ground, yet to be used. The sky is an intense dark blue, with thin golden rays reaching downward, a few of them touching the gilt halo of the saint. The miniature exhibits all the hallmarks of the illuminator known as the Master of Walters 221 (named for a fragmentary Book of Hours now at the Walters Art Museum), active in Western France during the second quarter of the 15th century. According to Booton, our artist was undoubtedly acquainted with the work of the Orléans Master (the main illuminator of the sumptuous Hours of Marguerite d'Orléans), with whom he shares several stylistic similarities; Randall also points out his indebtedness to the Rohan Master. Though clearly influenced by these illuminators, the Master of Walters 221 has a distinctive style, characterized especially by the use of heavily saturated color heightened with gold, three-dimensional molding, and close attention to detail. This miniature must surely be among his best works. The palette here is bold but well balanced; the composition is straight-forward but full of tension, and the molding of the figures, faces, and cloth is superb. The artist has also put great care into the smallest of details, from the careful delineation of the archers' fingers, to the hint of rope used to tie the hands of the saint. With its memorable composition, its convincingly emotional and life-like figures, and its exceptional condition, this is one of the most outstanding miniatures we have ever offered for sale.