From a Lavish Manuscript Apparently Prepared for a Wealthy Nun


([Flanders, Southern Netherlands, or Rhineland]: ca. 1260). 177 x 133 mm. (7 x 5 1/4"). Single column, 20 lines in a bold gothic book hand.

Versal initials in blue with red penwork or burnished gold with blue penwork, eight line fillers in geometric designs of red, blue, or burnished gold, recto with ONE LINE FILLER IN THE SHAPE OF A FANTASTIC CREATURE rendered in red and blue ink, and, at the upper left WITH A FIVE-LINE INITIAL FEATURING A YOUNG DAVID WITH A SWORD, A TURRET ABOVE HIM AND BELOW HIM A DRAGON WITH A LONG TAIL BITING AT HIS FEET. See: Kidd, "The McCarthy Collection," vol. II, no. 20. Vellum a bit soiled and cockled in places, an obvious stain in the center affecting a dozen lines of text (but lettering still entirely visible), inner edge of recto trimmed close, cutting into top of turret and edge of dragon's tail, verso with offsetting from another initial obscuring a few letters, a little chipping and rubbing to paint and gold, but a specimen of great interest nonetheless, and the decoration still quite appealing despite some condition issues.

From a lavish manuscript with considerable ongoing scholarly interest, this leaf from a very early Psalter-Hours contains a charming illuminated initial featuring a young David with a large sword, embellished with the image of a long-tailed dragon nipping at his heels. Like other leaves from this manuscript, ours also contains a whimsical penwork line filler, here in the form of a dog/dragon beast with two legs and a long tail. According to a recent Christie's description, "The parent manuscript [from which this leaf comes] was of almost unparalleled luxury: it contained the Psalms, Hours of the Virgin, and Office of the Dead, and apparently had a historiated initial for every psalm, hymn, prayer, canticle, etc.--more than 200 in total--and there is evidence that it may also have had between thirty and forty full-page prefatory miniatures." Thanks to previous academic research (particularly the contributions of Peter Kidd), we know that it was likely made for a wealthy (and perhaps even royal) Benedictine nun, based on the presence of at least two collects mentioning "our abbess," as well as another rare collect asking for the intercession of St. Benedict. There is still some disagreement over the place of origin of this manuscript, and while scholarly consensus now seems to lean towards Flanders, Southern Netherlands, or the Rhineland region, arguments have also been made in favor of Eastern France, Lower Lorraine, and England. A number of leaves from this manuscript came to market in the second half of the 20th century, and a list of known leaves (not including the present two) can be found in Sotheby's catalogue entry for their lot 13 (a leaf with five initials) at their sale on 7 July 2015.