(France (probably Besançon): 3rd quarter of 15th century). 239 x 165 mm. (9 3/8 x 6 1/2"). Single column, 15 lines in an elegant gothic book hand.
Rubrics in dark pink, line-enders in dark pink and blue highlighted with a gilt bezant, several one-line initials and one two-line initial in burnished gold on dark pink and blue ground with white tracery, one three-line initial in pink with white tracery, filled with trefoils painted red or blue, all on a gold ground, verso with panel border of delicate hairline vines terminating in gilt bezants and ivy and with acanthus and flowers, recto with A HALF-PAGE MINIATURE OF THE CRUCIFIXION in an arch-topped gilt frame, Christ in the center of the composition with the mocking inscription "I N R I" ("Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum") on a banner above him, the Virgin standing on the left and St. John on the right, the landscape behind them filled with hills and trees under a tessellated sky, SURROUNDED BY A FULL BORDER consisting of hairline vines terminating in gold bezants and ivy, colorful acanthus, strawberries, and flowers, the text and image further framed by a "U"-shaped bar of gold, pink, and blue extending the full height of the miniature. ◆Virgin's robe a little mottled and chipped, minor chipping elsewhere, borders with slight smudging to some of the hairline vines, small marginal stain, but, in all, in excellent condition, with wide margins, with the colors very bright, and the miniature well preserved.
Opening the Hours of the Cross (a shorter text that is sometimes found in addition to the Hours of the Virgin), this touching miniature of the Crucifixion is richly painted and features a particularly emotional depiction of Christ, his head slightly bowed with an expression of pain. Blood flows freely from his wounds, partly merging with the orange in the sky and partly forming rivulets at the base of the cross. This exsanguination stands in contrast to the more typically restrained indications in other Crucifixion scenes and serves to emphasize the cruel suffering of the execution. His mother stands to the left in a blue cloak, hands knitted together and with a look of weary resignation on her face; to the right stands St. John, whose lips are slightly parted as he looks directly at the crucified Christ as if searching his face for signs of life. Our artist has made an unusual choice for the background, with the lower two thirds devoted to a naturalistic landscape with many hills and trees, and the sky entirely tessellated with squares of red, blue and gold. While the Virgin and St. John are both firmly situated within the earthy realm, the body of Christ occupies both spaces, perhaps emphasizing his dual nature as both human and divine. Stylistically, this leaf can be localized to the Franche-Comté region in eastern France, and is closely related (if not directly attributable) to an atelier specializing in Books of Hours made for the Use of Besançon and most likely situated in that city (see Avril and Reynaud, p. 197). The similarities are especially apparent in the figures' faces, which are slightly puffy in appearance and have distinct, slit-like eyes. As noted by Avril and Reynaud, the unnamed master of this atelier was deeply indebted to the Master of Morgan 293, a talented Burgundian illuminator active in the second quarter of the 15th century, whose name derives from a particularly lovely Book of Hours made for the Use of Besançon. In fact, there are certain consonant details between this miniature and the Crucifixion in the Morgan manuscript: Christ's position and physicality are nearly identical, as is the pattern of blood as it moves down the cross, and both artists create a division in the landscape, with the Morgan artist using gold rather than tessellation for his sky. Whoever the artist responsible for the present miniature, the work here is clearly accomplished, both quietly powerful and an excellent representation of a distinct regional style. (ST17060Z)